Friday, February 17, 2012


We have positioned ourselves at DPNC as the voice for Prevention & Treatment in the community, in the media and in Parliament. 

Two weeks ago,  I met with B.C. Premier Christy Clark's right-hand man, Mike McDonald, about our shared concerns.

On Wednesday, our Vice-President, Gwen Landolt, made a short, powerful and excellent presentation to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee in Ottawa.

We are proud to share that presentation here with you.

February 15, 2012

Presented to: 

Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs


4438 West 10th Avenue, Suite 178
Vancouver, BC V6R 4R8
(604) 731-2425

Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Re:  Bill C-10
Amendments to Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA)
Part 2, Clauses 32-33, 39-48, and 50-51

Illicit drug use imposes tremendous economic and social costs on society in the form of health care, enforcement, loss of productivity in the workplace and at home, disability and death of addicts.

According to Antonio Mario Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), however, legal controls on drug use have been highly successful.[i] This is contrary to some claims, based solely on ideology, that prohibition does not work.  The latter is an incorrect assumption.   

One has only to analyze the results of prohibition in the US between 1920 and 1933.  Alcohol consumption declined dramatically during prohibition, noted by the large decrease in cirrhosis deaths (29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 and 10.7 in 1929).  Admissions to State mental hospitals for alcoholic psychosis declined from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 in 1928.  Arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct declined by 50%.[ii] 

For the population as a whole, the best estimates are that consumption of alcohol declined by 30% to 50%.  That is, prohibition did not end alcohol use, but it did succeed by reducing by one-third the consumption of a product that had wide historical and popular sanction.[iii]  In contrast, the use of marijuana, heroin and other controlled drugs have never been a widely accepted activity in the US or in Canada.

Parliament’s Role to Determine Appropriate Sentences

It is Parliament’s role to advise courts and judges across the country, so that offenders are led to understand the severity of the offences they commit.  This objective can be achieved, inter alia, by mandatory minimum sentences.  Unfortunately, the application of judicial discretion in sentencing does not always achieve this objective.  It is detrimental to the interests of the Canadian public to rely solely on judicial discretion in sentencing, as it can lead to a loss of confidence and faith in the criminal justice system.  This is due to the fact that, regretfully, judicial discretion does not necessarily mean the application of common sense by judges when sentencing. In fact, judges, when sentencing, have frequently failed to balance the objectives of denunciation and general deterrence, with their desire for rehabilitation of the offender.  This has led, in all too many instances, to a chaotic sentencing regime for offences, especially in regard to marijuana grow ops and marijuana possession. That is, operators of grow-ops all too frequently are given minimum fines, and this “slap on the wrist” approach is regarded by the offenders as merely the cost of doing business, and in no way serves as a deterrent. According to The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Report (2009) on the illicit drug situation in Canada, domestically produced marijuana continues to provide a source of considerable profit for Canadian based organized crime.[iv]

Similarly, possession of cannabis is regarded by some liberal judges, for personal ideological reasons, to be merely a minor offence.  Consequently, in exercising their “discretion”, they have mostly handed down sentences of probation only.[v]  

According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (July 2007), Canada has the highest proportion of marijuana users in the industrialized world, reaching 16.8% of those between 15 and 64 years of age.  Cannabis offences rose 13% in Canada between 2009-2010.[vi]  The lenient sentencing (probation only) for cannabis possession has led to a public perception that marijuana use does not cause harm.  Well-informed individuals should understand, however, that marijuana is not a harmless drug.  In fact, there are many, many studies indicating the contrary.  Please refer to our website, under the heading, Drug Facts, Marijuana and for studies on harm caused by marijuana use.

Drug Courts

There are, at present, only six drug courts in Canada.  This is in contrast to literally thousands of such drug courts in the USA.

Drug courts provide non-violent drug users with the option of obtaining treatment in lieu of conviction.  That is, these courts provide a window of opportunity for the addict to obtain treatment, which the addict may not otherwise consider. It is significant that, whether the treatment is undertaken voluntarily, or by way of a court order, the rate of success remains the same. 

It is significant that in the USA, 75% of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program.[vii]; [viii]  The National Crime Prevention Centre also reports that there is a significant decrease in drug use and drug related crimes for those who complete the court designated program[ix].  However, it is troubling that apparently only 14% of the participants of court-supervised treatment in Canada actually complete such programs.[x]   Therefore, strategies are urgently required to encourage participants to complete treatment programs, as well as to greatly increase the number of drug courts established across this country in order to assist drug addicts.

[i] The Observer September 5, 2010 (UK)

[ii] US Drug Enforcement Administration Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization online at, page 9.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Report on the Illicit Drug Situation in Canada- 2009.

[v] Dauvergne, “Trends in police-reported drug offences in Canada,” Juristat, Vol. 29, No 2, May 2009.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Roman et al, the Urban Institute and Caliber, “Recidivism Rates for Drug Court Graduates: Nationally Based Estimate-Final Report,” Washington D.C., 2003.

[viii] Department of Justice, Backgrounder (2 June 2005).

[ix] Public Safety Canada, National Crime Prevention Centre, Building the Evidence – Evaluation Summaries, “Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver (DTCV),” 2008-ES-18.

[x] Ibid.

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