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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

 Chapter 21 - Public policy options

Public policy based on guiding principles


However much we might wish good health and happiness for everyone, we all know how fragile both are. Above all, we realize that health and happiness cannot be forced on a person, especially not by criminal law based on a specific concept of what is morally right. No matter how attractive calls for a drug-free society might be, and even if some people might want others to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or smoking joints, we all realize that these activities are well and truly part of social reality and the history of humankind.

Consequently, what role should the State play? It should neither abdicate responsibility and allow drug markets to run rife, nor should it impose a particular way of life on people. Instead, we have opted for a concept whereby public policy promotes and supports freedom for individuals and society as a whole. For some, this would undoubtedly mean avoiding drug use. However, for others, the road to freedom might be via drug use. For society as a whole, this concept means a State that does not dictate what should be consumed and under what form. Support for freedom necessarily means flexibility and adaptability. It is for this reason that public policy on cannabis has to be clear while at the same time tolerant, to serve as a guide while at the same time avoiding imposing a single standard. This concept of the role of the State is based on the principle of autonomy and individual and societal responsibility. Indeed, it is much more difficult to allow people to make their own decisions because there is less of an illusion of control. It is just that: an illusion. We are all aware of that. It is perhaps sometimes comforting, but is likely to lead to abuse and unnecessary suffering. An ethic of responsibility teaches social expectations (not to use drugs in public or sell to children), responsible behaviour (recognizing at-risk behaviour and being able to use moderately) and supports people facing hardship (providing a range of treatment).

From this concept of government action ensues a limited role for criminal law. As far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour causing demonstrable harm to others shall be prohibited: illegal trafficking, selling to minors, impaired driving.

Public policy shall also draw on available knowledge and scientific research but without expecting science to provide the answers to political issues. Indeed, scientific knowledge does have a major role to play as a support tool in decision-making, at both an individual and government level. Indeed, science should play no greater role. It is for this reason that the Committee considers that a drug and dependency observatory and are search program should be set up: to help those decision makers that will come after us.



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