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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs

Chapter 1 - Our Mandate  




Our mandate comprises four components:

1.1.                  Examine the federal government policy on cannabis, the means used to implement it, its control and its effectiveness;

2.2.                  Examine the policies and approaches followed in other countries;

3.3.                  Examine the implications of the international conventions and treaties; and

4.4.                  Examine the social and health effects of cannabis and the possible impacts of different policies.

We chose to interpret our mandate in the broadest manner possible. Some asked us whether it was our ambition to be a second Le Dain Commission.[1][6] Others told us we did not have the resources to be so exhaustive and rigorous in our examination. Still others regretted the fact that we were restricted in the first phase of our work to cannabis, as though the various substances could be separated and their users classified accordingly.

Chapter 2, on our work program, will show that we were motivated by a desire to be rigorous and to cast our net wide. We are nevertheless aware of the scope and limits of our role as a Senate Committee, all the more so since the means put at our disposal were as limited as our ambition was generous.

The question of the distinction among substances is more problematical for various reasons. First, recent research shows that it is more important to distinguish between user behaviours than between substances. Based on this view, it is thus not so much the drugs themselves that should be distinguished as the different ways in which they are used and the environments in which those uses take place, and hence the risks a certain number of users run. Here we will discuss at-risk behaviours[2][7], which are not determined so much by the characteristics of the substances as by those of the users and the conditions in which they are used. Second, the distinctions between substances have no clear scientific basis. Thus, entirely different classifications are arrived at depending on how one views the pharmacological properties of the various drugs, their effects on physical health and their origins or cultivation methods. And third, a comprehensive and integrated drug policy cannot be put forward on the basis of this distinction between substances.

However, the result of this decision, which forced us to limit our work to cannabis, was something more than just disadvantages and limits. We should admit, first of all, that embracing the entire field of illegal drugs with so little in the way of resources would have been a monumental undertaking. And as recent commissions of inquiry and international scientific conferences have chosen, as we did, to survey the state of knowledge on cannabis, we were able both to make use of their work and to compare it to our own. Lastly, and more particularly, experiments conducted in other countries, in particular the Netherlands, demonstrate the merit in treating cannabis separately, in a "market separation" approach.

In short, while restricting our work to cannabis, we invited the witnesses not to limit themselves to it alone and to show us the links between it and the various at-risk behaviours of users when they occur. We also bore in mind the necessity of addressing drugs in the context of an integrated policy, particularly with regard to the major parameters of public policy, legislation or knowledge infrastructure, for example.


[1][6]  The Le Dain Commission, which investigated illegal drugs in the early 1970s, will be discussed more fully in Chapter 12. See Canada (1970), Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. (Le Dain Commission) Ottawa: Queen's Printer.

[2][7]  See among others: Reynaud, M., P.J. Parquet et G. Lagrue (1999) Les pratiques addictives. Usage, usage nocif et dépendance aux substances psychoactives. Rapport préparé à la demande du Directeur général de la Santé. Paris: Secrétariat d’État à la Santé et aux Affaires Sociales.

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