Last night I was able to swing by the Wosk Centre for Dialogue to see Prof. Bruce Alexander receive the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in support of Controversy (A prize established at Simon Fraser University to honor work which challenges complacency and that provokes controversy).
Prof. Alexander spoke of his personal history and research into addiction, but during the speech one factoid really stuck out.
He pointed out that the war on drugs has been going on much longer than I suspected. Indeed, in 1922 the government of the day apparently introduced whipping and deportation as a punishment for addiction and drug use. This is a level of shaming and deterrence the current government could only dream of implementing.
Did it have any impact on drug use? Of course not.
If whipping didn’t work, how is a “just say no” combined with stiffer criminal penalties going to have an impact? The creation of mandatory minimum sentences in the 1970s’ had no impact on drug use… how will this differ?
So why does the current government believe it’s new “tough on drugs” approach will yield better results? Because the new conservative drug policy isn’t about achieving results, it is about looking tough. Sadly, as it drives drug users and addicts further underground it will likely push them further out of reach of health and social workers, making the problem worse, not better.