The war on drugs

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Recreation of narcotic substances.

Before 1908, all narcotics were legal within Canada. In fact, at the dawn of the 20th century, many Canadians had become dependent on opiates to function and carry on with their day-to-day operations. Despite this, in the year 1908, the Canadian parliament criminalized all opium products to jail the newly unemployed population of Chinese railway workers who constructed the National Transcontinental Railway, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. Additionally, almost every act to criminalize narcotic substances within Canada had been done so as a means of targeting minority communities. This is not meant to be solely a history lesson, but to instead set the stage for the hypocrisy that is the Canadian war on drugs. 

The War on Drugs made famous by former United States President, Ronald Reagan, in 1986 was one of the longest lasting initiatives taken by the United States in combatting illicit drug use. What is not often discussed however, is that two days after President Reagan, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney surprised both the nation and his aids by announcing a Canadian war on drugs. A high-ranking official within Health and Welfare Canada said on record, “When [Mulroney] made that statement, then we had to make it a problem.” Simply put, there was not even a single iota of evidence to support claims that a war on drugs was at all necessary for the nation. 

The hopeful mimicking of his American counterparts’ plan had been so abysmal, it ultimately cost the Conservative Party their majority in the House of Commons. Fitting for Mulroney to fall flat on his enactment of legislation so erroneously based in populism, as out of the trio that he, Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made, he served as the forgotten middle child frequently left behind at home. 

With this said, it unfortunately does not come as a surprise to hear that the war on drugs was mainly an ill-thought bid to gain political power by utilizing populist rhetoric. The War on Drugs pushed out and perpetuated a devastating impact on people of colour and their communities. The impact in question can still be felt today when looking at the sheer volume of broken homes, people locked up for outrageous amounts of years and the never-ending collection of whittled-away communities lost to extensive drug violence.  

On a fundamental level, the criminalization approach for narcotics does not work. It does not reduce drug usage, it does not reduce drug violence and it most certainly does not get rid of drugs. Our approach to drugs should be one of public health, where those suffering from addiction can find federally supported ways to overcome their illness. Throwing people in a cell for using a substance that was only criminalized in the first place because a fundamentally racist parliament passed a law prohibiting those very same substances, reeks of compromised interests and bad governance. Any perpetuating of these laws renders our contemporary parliaments no better or morally superior to the racist conduct of past parliaments.  

Until there is a fundamental revamping of our criminal drug laws and how our nation approaches drug usage, we can only conclude that our elected representatives are no better that those who came before; and as such, are undeserving of the privilege that it is to represent the people of the nation. If our elected officials truly cared to serve those they have been elected to represent, we would see no short presence of initiatives to provide clean and affordable housing, safe and timely access to medical professionals as well as safe means for the most vulnerable members of society to access narcotic substances. Much like prostitution, the danger within it is an inherent result of its criminalization. 

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