Textbook Notes (362,901)
Canada (158,095)
Sociology (1,465)
SOC219H5 (35)
Chapter 8

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Nicole Myers

Chapter 8 Drug and Law Policy in Canada: Torn Between Criminal Justice and Public Health Introduction − The “drug problem” − Debates revolve around these questions: o Should drug use be a crime, or is it a disease for which people need treatment? o Will law enforcement reduce rates of drug use o the availability of drugs on illegal markets? o Should drug use be decriminalized or legalized in the interest of better policy? o Where does ‘harm reduction’ fit in as an intervention framework? − These key questions have been amplified by the emergence of HIV and overdose epidemics among illicit drug users starting in the late 1980s Brief History of Drug Law and Policy − In 1908 (context of socio-economic tensions between Chinese immigrants and Anglo-Saxon population in BC that resulted in violent anti-Chinese riots in Vancouver) the House of Commons passed the Opium Act − Opium Act: a criminal law that prohibited the manufacturing, importation, and sale of opium products in Canada − In 1911, the Opium Act was expanded to prohibit opium possession, criminalizing the medical/cultural uses of this drug − Late 1920s: Influenced by the US, the Canadian government added other psychoactive drugs (heroin, cocaine, cannabis) to the drug laws (drugs that were mainly seen to be associated with non-white ethnic minorities) − Mid 1920s: RCMP assumed main responsibility over drug law enforcement in Canada − Over the years, drug law expanded at the federal level under the Bureau of Narcotic Drugs − 1940s, heroin use (largely white population rather than ethnic users) in the larger cities of Canada had replaced opium use as the main focus on drug enforcement − Expert committees had called for treatment interventions rather than punishment for heroin addicts − While these ideas did not materialize, drug law was expanded by key 1 enforcement provisions extending far beyond those ordinarily available in the Criminal Code o Ex. ‘possession for the purpose of trafficking’ charges, the ‘onus of proof’ was reversed so that the defendants had to prove their innocence rather than the Crown prove their guilt − Certain offences entailed mandatory minimum punishments or even allowed corporal punishment (ex. Whipping) − Enforcement personnel carried ‘writs of assistance’ providing them with authorization for search or seizure in drug investigations, eliminating the need for case-specific warrants − The modernized Narcotic Control Act in 1961 included a ‘mandatory treatment clause’ in the draft, this provision would have allowed (at the discretion of the judge or prosecutor) incarceration for drug addicts to be substituted with commitment to mandatory treatment − However, this clause never came into effect − 1960s, enforcement shifted focus toward cannabis use, which had spread rapidly, especially among young people − Most offences resulted in criminal sentences and records for offenders, causing considerable social controversy − In response, the Liberal government established the Le Dain Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, which recommended that personal drug use not be subject to criminal punishment and that treatment be provided as the main intervention for drug addiction − However, the commission’s recommendations had little effect on law and policy − Even though about 50% of Canadians expressed opposition to the criminal punishment of cannabis use, attempts to decriminalize cannabis use failed − Instead, drug law enforcement increased cannabis arrests and charges, majority of which were for simple drug possession − 1980s, like the US ‘War on Drugs’, ‘Canada’s Drug Strategy’ was launched, devoting the majority of its resources to drug enforcement rather than prevention or treatment − 1996, renewal of federal drug law, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, maintained and cemented the criminalization of drugs − Rapidly rising numbers of overdose deaths as well as HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections among injection drug users (IDUs) emphasized the urgency for better prevention and treatment services, yet also pointed to the contributive role of enforcement in creating health risks 2 for IDUs while entailing little change in enforcement practice − The number of drug offences enforced increased from 56,817 in 1993 to 80,142 in 1999, mainly consisting of possession offences (61%) Injection and Drug Use − In the past 25 years, injection drug users (IDUs) had been a major public health and policy concern, primarily due to the high morbidity and mortality rate − Important factors that contribute to health risks among IDUs are: o The common co-injecting of heroin and cocaine (‘speedballs’), which was associated with excessive ‘binge-ing’ patterns and other risk factors (ex. Sex work involvement) leading to infectious disease transmission, overdose, and other harms − Recent data suggests that heroin/cocaine injecting has decreased, largely due to shifts in local drug cultures in which (non-injected) prescription opioid analgesics (POAs) and crack/cocaine have become increasingly prevalent − Social and environment determinants are well-documented predictors of elevated morbidity and mortality risks among IDUs o Homelessness, injecting in public spaces, imprisonment, and law enforcement o Ex. Use in public spaces often compels users to rush injecting and disregard rules of safer injecting out of fear of detection by police − Following the outbreak of the HIV epidemic among IDUs in the 1980s, needle exchange programs (NEPs) were gradually established in Canadian cities in the 1990s − Owing to their initially controversial status, NEPs were considered potentially illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), the programs were expanded and operated hesitantly (ex. ‘one-for-one exchange’) and hence prevented far less cases of HIV or other blood borne virus (BBV) transmissions than possible − NEPs demonstrated that it effectively reduce IDU-related risk behaviours, specifically HIV transmission, among IDUs who utilize these services − In recent years, the reach and practices of NEPs have been improved and have facilitated better access to sterile syringes among IDUs − Following similar initiatives in Europe and Australia, a so-called supervised injection site (SIS) pilot project (‘Insite’) was established in Vancouver in 2003 − The SIS pilot was based on a federal exemption from the CDSA, with 3 the objective to assess the intervention’s impact on mortality and morbidity among IDUs − In SIS facilities, IDUs can inject drugs in safe, clean, and supervised environments, with medical staff on standby in case of emergencies, in order to reduce risky injection practices and overdose risks − SIS also provide drug and health inf0ormation, as well as basic health care, social services, and treatment referrals − Despite the positive results, the federal government (conservative) has been determined to close Insite − RCMP has repeatedly attempted to discredit research findings on the SIS, petitioning members of the Vancouver Police Depart
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