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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 2 - Policies and Practices In Canada

Chapter 18

Observations on practices

In previous chapters, we described public action by dividing it up into the major sectors of involvement. Before closing the third part of this report, we would like to make some general observations that cut across the individual areas we have examined. The first concerns difficulties in harmonizing the various levels and sectors of involvement; the second, the difficulty in co-ordinating their various approaches; and the third, the costs of drugs and public policy. 


Difficulties in harmonizing the players 

Without reopening the debate on the division of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government, we consider it obvious that any public policy on illegal drugs, and cannabis in particular, applies to all three levels. Drugs affect education and health (primarily provincial jurisdictions), justice (a responsibility shared between the federal and provincial governments), public well-being and public safety (which involve all three levels), international relations (a federal responsibility), and even culture, science and research (essentially provincial). Thus we are attempting to make our way through a field that is at least tangled, if not chaotic.

Co-ordinating mechanisms do exist. On the most formal level, the federal-provincial-territorial Deputy Ministers of Health Working Group is responsible for co‑ordinating the drug strategy. But we know almost nothing about their discussions, which are held in camera, or any concrete results.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) is another coordinating mechanism, but only a few provinces have equivalent partners (Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Quebec, with some reservations). And the Centre has neither the budget, the infrastructure nor even the legitimacy, which it would derive from a clear mandate, needed to initiate a genuine national dialogue on the issue.

Yet another coordinating mechanism is the Health, Education and Enforcement in Partnership (HEP) network.. Established in 1994 by the CCSA, the HEP network is rooted in the balanced approach of Canada’s Drug Strategy: seeking an equilibrium between supply reduction and demand reduction. HEP unites key players in the health and enforcement fields in this common focus and includes other partners, notably in education, social services, correctional services and justice. On a national level, its Steering Committee is composed of representatives of the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (co-chair), the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (co-chair), the Correctional Service of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, Health Canada, Justice Canada, the National Centre for Crime Prevention, the RCMP and the Solicitor-General. How many readers of this report, even among those actively engaged in the drug field, are aware of this partnership, its achievements, actions and benefits?

In Chapter 14, we examined the disparate response of police services across the country to the application of the law–between regions, provinces and territories and, within provinces and territories, between cities. In Chapter 15, we noted that all the evidence suggests that the same holds true of the judicial response. Chapters 16 and 17, on preventive practices and treatment respectively, described the same unequal or fragmented approaches.

In a federation like Canada, it is to be expected that differences in practice and direction will co-exist. How the issue of cannabis is seen and dealt with will not be the same in the greater Vancouver area, with its explosion of growers, as in Quebec, with its criminal motorcycle gangs, or as in Prince Edward Island, which has almost no problems with production or even with abuse of cannabis. The difficulties experienced in the downtown cores of major cities are not those of smaller urban centres. And First Nations people have their own quite specific problems.

Nevertheless, among other effects, the difficulties in harmonizing the action of different levels of government mean in concrete terms that:


v      Results of a successful experiment in prevention conducted in one area of the country will not reach the players in another part.

vv     Therapeutic practices that have been proven to be ineffective will continue to be used elsewhere because the information is not circulated.

vv     There is no national knowledge infrastructure on use and use trends; for example, the few studies that have been conducted in school environments are not comparable and are not (all contemporary?).

vv      Some cities have adopted policies based on the idea of a drug-free society while others are focused on harm reduction.


Notably absent in the development of public policy is the civil society, especially community-based organizations (rehabilitation organizations, for example) and also user self-help support groups (including compassion clubs and groups of users of cannabis for therapeutic purposes).

The hyperbola that would make drugs into a bigger social issue than they actually are aside, it remains that the use of psychoactive substances, legal or illegal, and the resulting problems of dependency that may follow, concern every citizen, every level of government, throughout the country. This is a national issue. That, unquestionably, the future and quality of our health system, the protection of our national interests and security, the quality of education and the protection of the environment are even more important issues does not mean that drugs are not a national priority. Or should be, at least. Quite apart from its social and economic consequences, which will be discussed later, the drug issue should be a priority because it concerns the education of children and adolescents, affects the quality and safety of living environments, and causes suffering and wasted lives. Granted that this is not so much the case for cannabis, whose social and economic effects cannot be compared to those of alcohol, but, while agreeing that cannabis calls for a different approach, we cannot isolate it from other psychoactive substances. We need to develop a comprehensive national policy on drugs and addiction, within which cannabis would have a place.

Better harmonization among levels of government and with civil society would allow us to lay the foundations of a shared understanding of the issues presented by psychoactive substances, and above all to develop a common set of indicators for assessing the effectiveness of policies and actions.



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