On Health Canada’s website under the heading, Mission, Values and Activities, the Ministry declares its commitment to “improving the lives of all of Canada’s people”. As part of this mandate, the agency is empowered to regulate psychoactive substances under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). However, the opportunities for public safety are lost through evidence-free thinking by senior policy makers, and the law’s cooptation by special interest groups whose actions put Canadians at risk.
The CDSA penalizes those who possess or traffick in certain substances, a punitive feature which depends upon the threat of punishment to deter people from consuming or profiting from drugs. The failed 40 year-old drug war has proved otherwise – according to the recently released report from the Global Commission on Drugs. Rather than enhance public safety, the threat of penal sanctions sustains black markets where business is conducted outside the behavioural norms and regulatory structures of legitimate enterprise. Consequently, the violence and related havoc intrinsic to drug trafficking is fed by the (il)legal environment which governments create through a fetish with prohibitionist policies and practices.
It is painfully ironic that the current and former Ministers of Health have chosen to use the CDSA to threaten imprisonment for those possessing or cultivating cannabis, a product which has far fewer negative health effects than do the penal sanctions for its cultivation or possession. It is jail, not cannabis, from which Health Canada should be protecting Canadians. As it stands now, the most dangerous thing about cannabis is being caught with it by the police.
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