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Publications - February 28, 2002
 

37th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs


COMMITTEE EVIDENCE

CONTENTS

Thursday, February 28, 2002




¹ 1540
V         The Chair (Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.))
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella (Executive Director, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Network)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

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V         The Chair
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)

º 1600
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

º 1605
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

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V         The Chair
V         Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga--Maisonneuve, BQ)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Réal Ménard
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Réal Ménard
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

º 1615
V         Mr. Réal Ménard
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Réal Ménard
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Ménard
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough--Rouge River, Lib.)

º 1620
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee

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V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Ms. Fry
V         The Chair

º 1630
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

º 1635
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

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V         The Chair
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         A voice
V         Mr. Derek Lee

º 1645
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

º 1650
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

º 1655
V         Mr. White (Langley--Abbotsford)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

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V         The Chair
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

» 1705
V         Ms. Fry
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Fry
V         The Chair
V         Ms. Marilyn Pilon (Committee Researcher)
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella

» 1710
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Derek Lee
V         The Chair
V         Mr. Eugene Oscapella
V         The Chair










CANADA

Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs


NUMBER 029 
l
1st SESSION 
l
37th PARLIAMENT 

COMMITTEE EVIDENCE

Thursday, February 28, 2002

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

¹  +(1540)  

[English]

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    The Chair (Ms. Paddy Torsney (Burlington, Lib.)): We are the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs. We are very pleased to have before us today Eugene Oscapella, who, in addition to being a barrister and solicitor, is also a representative of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy.

    Mr. Oscapella, it's nice to see you.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella (Executive Director, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Network): It's nice to see you, Madam Chair.

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    The Chair: I think you might have a statement for us, and then we'll turn to some questions.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Yes, I do. I have three papers and a statement.

    First, thank you very much for inviting me to this committee. I think this work is extraordinarily important. I was very pleased at the breadth of the mandate of the committee because one of the problems with drug policy reviews historically has been that the mandates have not been broad enough to actually deal with the issues that need to be dealt with.

    I should explain first that the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy is non-partisan. We are very much non-profit, I can assure you of that--too non-profit. We accept no government funding whatsoever. Our goals include examining current drug laws and policies, and, where those laws and policies are deficient, recommending alternatives. We are linked with organizations around the world that have similar objectives.

    You have three papers before you today.

    One is a paper I wrote many years ago called, “Witch Hunts and Chemical McCarthysim”. It has been updated since then. It is basically a primer on some of the major flaws of prohibition.

    The second paper you have is one called, “Profiteers and Prohibition”. That was a paper I delivered both to the Senate committee and to a conference a few years ago talking about who actually benefits from prohibition, because I don't think we can talk about drug policy reform without understanding who the beneficiaries are of the present system.

    The third paper, and the one I would like to address first, is the paper on how drug prohibition finances terrorism.

    Immediately after September 11, I called up the Senate committee and suggested that it would be good for them to hear this point again because the year before I had appeared before the Senate committee and I had mentioned the role of drug prohibition in financing terrorism. They very graciously allowed me to come before the committee again and explain that. The paper you have before you is very much the same as the paper that was presented to the committee.

    You're hearing a lot of people talking right now about how the drug trade finances terrorism. That is an accurate statement, but it also is inherently misleading. The drug trade finances terrorism only because of drug prohibition. Drug prohibition takes a product that is worth a few pennies a gram to produce and makes it worth many dollars.

    I teach a course in drug policy at the University of Ottawa. One of the slides I show my class--and I've already told the researchers for the committee that I would make this available to them--is a slide showing just exactly how prohibition enriches terrorists. The farm gate price of a kilo of opium--that's the price at the farm gate in Afghanistan--varies. Right now it's worth about $90 U.S. a kilo, or $900 to produce a kilo of heroin. When that heroin is sold, the retail price of that is $290,000. These figures vary over time because prices fluctuate, but these are figures provided in 1997 by the United Nations. That is 320 times what the farmer received for that product. That is a 32,000% increase in value.

    I go through this in the paper that is before you.

    The only reason heroin has increased by 32,000% in value is because of our prohibitionist drug laws. Through prohibition, we are financing the people who are trying to kill us. It is as simple as that. It may be an unpleasant truth, but the very simple truth is we are financing the people who are trying to kill us. There's no easy way out of this. There are no alternatives.

    We've looked at money laundering legislation. That is not going to work. We can try to reduce consumption of drugs. That still will not work because you can reduce consumption of drugs in one place and it will sprout up in another. The other means governments are calling on to reduce the financing of terrorism just work around the margins of the problem.

    The fundamental problem remains prohibition. As long as we retain prohibition, we are literally handing money on a golden platter to terrorists.

    In 1994 Interpol said that the drug trade was the leading source of financing for terrorism. It's very hard to know if that is an accurate statement, but there is no doubt, based on the evidence the Senate committee has heard, based on evidence before U.S. congressional committees, based on evidence from intelligence and police agencies, that the drug trade, which is made so profitable through prohibition, is financing terrorism.

    All I ask is that people acknowledge this or look a bit more closely at it. In essence, you have a choice. You can say we accept that prohibition finances terrorism but we are not willing to abandon it, or you can say prohibition finances terrorism and if we want to remove this source of funding from terrorists we have to abandon prohibition. That does not mean the all-out legalization of drugs, but that is the choice you have, in a nutshell. It is not an easy choice.

    The former justice minister, Anne McLellan, said on September 19 that:

Terrorism has a certain similarity to organized crime. What fuels it is money. And therefore what we have to do is strike at the ability of terrorist organizations to raise money.

    The money laundering legislation, the new powers of search and seizure we have, the powers of surveillance, will not work by themselves. They are totally inadequate for dealing with this issue.

    We can ratchet up those powers to the extreme. They will not stop the flow of money to terrorists through the drug trade. It is as plain and as simple as that.

    Much of the rhetoric that has emerged since September 11, particularly out of the U.S. government, has been that if you use drugs, you finance terrorism. But you can make exactly the same argument by saying if you buy honey from Afghanistan, you're financing terrorism. If you buy running shoes from Indonesia, you're financing terrorism, because some of that money goes to finance al-Qaeda. If you buy gasoline from Saudi Arabia, you're also financing terrorism, because we know that some of the seeds of these terrorist organizations come from Saudi Arabia.

    That is part of the rhetoric that you're hearing, particularly from the American government. But again, I urge you to remember that it is drug prohibition, it is the drug trade under a system of prohibition, that is so extraordinarily profitable. That is the first point I wanted to raise.

    The second point is that for many other reasons, prohibition is also a fundamental evil. No matter what light we cast our current drug polices in, prohibition remains a fundamental mistake. We have no possibility of succeeding in meaningful reforms, in really reducing the harms associated with drugs in this country, as long as we retain prohibition.

    I am not the only sort of half-crazed drug policy reform advocate who's making these assertions, by the way. The Fraser Institute actually published the “Witch Hunts” paper. It published that paper in August of this year. It said that:

Canadian governments - federal and provincial - have seldom given serious thought to drug policy, preferring instead to follow whatever variation on failure is being proposed during the latest 'crisis'. “This thinking has only served to enrich organized crime, corrupt governments and law enforcement officials, spread diseases such as HIV, hinder health care, and feed into an ever-growing law enforcement and penal industry”....

    That is the view of the Fraser Institute, which is not the most radical institute in the world.

    Another organization, The Economist magazine, which is one of the most respected publications in the English-speaking world, published a survey at the end of July last year called “The Case for Legalizing Drugs”. The Economist for many years has called for drugs to be legalized. They don't mean abandoning all controls. What they mean is to have sensible, non-criminal controls. Their argument is to legalize, control, and discourage the use of these drugs.

    One of the things you have to ask yourselves is whether prohibition has ever worked. I brought some materials along that I'm going to share with the researchers on the committee. I spoke to them earlier. They are unfortunately in English only, but they're research materials. If you look at these materials, you'll see that basically we've created a situation where no matter what we do, it doesn't work.

    The 1990 RCMP drug report--these are police figures--not only documented falling prices and greater purity of cocaine, but also projected easier availability of almost all illegal drugs in Canada over the next two years. That was in 1990.

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    In 1999 the RCMP came out with a report. It said supply and demand for all drug types have remained stable but will likely increase in the near future.

    The RCMP say that several large heroin seizures over the past five years have done little or nothing to stop the flow of heroin onto Canadian streets. This is from a newspaper report in 1999 reporting on an RCMP report that came out under access to information laws. Supply is plentiful and heroin is easily acquired, when needed, from a variety of highly mobile and well-connected trafficking organizations. These are the RCMP's words. I quote:

These seizures have had minimal effect on the drug-taking population in general and little, if any, impact among the addict population within any given Canadian city.

    The largest heroin importing scheme alleged in Canadian history was broken up in 1999. The Victoria police drug expert who was involved in this said the amount of heroin apparently involved in the case would probably not make an overall dent in the market. Basically, law enforcement does not work.

    You had somebody from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Mr. Mark Connolly, testify before you in October. Mr. White, I remember you persisted with asking how much he was stopping. He said law enforcement is able to stop only about 10% of the $7 billion to $10 billion annual trade in illegal drugs in Canada. The U.S. figures are not much better.

    According to the Organized Crime Agency of B.C., there are 10,000 marijuana grow operations in British Columbia. They can't stop them. Law enforcement cannot stop the production of drugs. What prohibition does is make law enforcement impossible. Prohibition is not just neutral; it actually causes harm because it makes these drugs so fantastically profitable to sell. We've seen it in the case of terrorist organizations. It's the same with organized crime.

    The RCMP say that drug trafficking remains the principal source of revenue for most organized crime groups in Canada. This is an RCMP report, their Criminal Intelligence Directorate drug situation in Canada report for 1999.

    The U.S. President's commission on organized crime in 1986 said that drug trafficking is the most widespread and lucrative organized crime operation in the United States. We are not only handing money to terrorists through prohibition; we are handing money to organized crime.

    Most of you heard about the big drug bust in the eastern provinces yesterday. There were 400 police officers involved. I think 40 separate raids were conducted. It was a major operation. They said they'd dismantled the major drug network in eastern Canada, and that operates all across Canada. What it may do is have a temporary effect on the supply of the drug. So even a major operation like this, a two-year operation that started in April of 2000, is going to have that minor an effect.

    What else do we do? We foster the spread of disease through prohibition. I believe you had Diane Riley and Walter Cavalieri speaking to the committee last week. They may have discussed some of these things, how drug prohibition creates the conditions for the spread of disease. Then of course we incarcerate people who are at high risk for hepatitis C and HIV infection, we don't give them the means to prevent the spread of those infections in prisons, and we create little incubators for disease.

    Corruption is something else we have to be concerned about. We saw the potential power... This country is one of the most robust democracies in the world, yet a few years ago we saw Monsieur Yvan Loubier being threatened. He and his family were put under 24-hour RCMP protection, you will remember, because he was trying to protect some of his constituents who were being coerced by the local motorcycle gangs to grow cannabis on their farms. This is one of the most robust democracies in the world. One of the things I found very troubling was how little reaction there was. We're used to seeing this in Colombia. Where was the reaction in Canada's Parliament when a sitting member of Parliament was being intimidated by organized crime? That is a consequence of the prohibition of drugs.

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    If you read the papers today and saw the news yesterday, you saw reports about alleged drug trafficking by guards in Kingston. There is probably not a prison in this country where you can't get relatively easy access to drugs.

    There have been a number of highly publicized recent corruption cases involving Canadian police. There was the RCMP drug education officer on Vancouver Island who died of a heroin-cocaine overdose, what they call a speedball. An RCMP officer in British Columbia was convicted of trafficking a few years back.

    An RCMP inspector shot himself at his desk. His subordinate fled to Portugal, where he had dual citizenship. He was convicted by a court in Portugal, which found that on 49 separate occasions he had helped organized crime with information to get drug shipments into Montreal.

    The entire cocaine habit of this country would fit in one shipping container on the back of a truck. That is all it would take to feed Canada's cocaine habit for one year. It would take 13 shipping containers to feed the entire U.S. cocaine habit. It would probably take one-third of a container to feed the entire heroin habit of Canada for one year.

    This is what we are up against. All it takes is one corrupt government official, one corrupt cop, one porous border. We can't seal the border. We can't keep drugs out of our prisons. We can't stop the flow of drugs. One of the greatest concerns about corruption of our institutions comes from the drug trade.

    The Wood inquiry in Australia, which was investigating police corruption in New South Wales, said there was an overwhelming body of evidence suggesting the existence of close relationships between police and those involved in the supply of drugs.

    The U.S. customs service three years ago said that drug trafficking was the undisputed greatest corruption hazard for police in the United States. There has been a significant increase in the number of public officials convicted and incarcerated in the United States in recent years, almost entirely because of their involvement in the drug trade.

    We're also seeing a type of what we would call institutional corruption that has nothing to do with money. Gil Puder, who unfortunately passed away at quite a young age, was a Vancouver police officer who spoke out quite bravely against the current police policies and actions in enforcing the drug laws. He said our drug laws had created an ethic where police illegality was acceptable. When the police are enforcing laws against drug users, who most of us don't care very much about, they feel they can take certain liberties. It's not financial corruption, but it may be a corruption in the ethics of policing, which is equally dangerous.

    Then, of course, we hear about drug-related violence, but let's be clear about that. Drug-related violence is primarily violence caused by the trade in illegal drugs. In other words, it's a trade that is fostered by the criminal prohibition of drugs. There is relatively little drug-related violence associated with what we would call pharmacological violence, or crime committed while under the influence, with the one exception seemingly being alcohol.

    Most of the violence involves trade disputes--the settling of accounts in many cases. The motorcycle gang wars in Quebec that have killed so many people in the past several years are drug-trade-related violence. Those are turf wars over the control of the illegal drug trade that we have created through the criminal prohibition of drugs. Journalist Michel Auger was shot in Montreal because he was reporting on these groups.

    I won't go on any further, except to say that what we have done has not worked.

    The Auditor General's December report on Canada's drug strategy said that 95% of the federal resources devoted to drugs in this country were spent on law enforcement. Law enforcement does not work under the current system of criminal prohibition.

    There is still a role for law enforcement, to a minor extent, but we primarily need to treat drugs as a health and social issue. It makes no sense to do more of what hasn't worked. It makes no sense to do more of what isn't working, in the future.

    Thank you.

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    The Chair: Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to this round of questioning. You've given us lots of food for thought, so far.

    Randy, can I hear from you for ten minutes?

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    Mr. Randy White (Langley--Abbotsford, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Paddy.

    Eugene, you and I have been around this before in a debate about eight or nine months ago. The similarity between your comments eight or nine months ago and those today is that your message is to eliminate prohibition, but you don't say what you would put in place.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: If you would give me another half hour, I'd be pleased to.

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    Mr. Randy White: Well, I'm going to give you a few minutes on it.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Okay.

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    Mr. Randy White: I would like you to identify three of your top priorities in place of prohibition, just for starters. Then I want to walk you through a land of no prohibition--in other words, government-subsidized, or a legalization of drugs.

    Now, I just worked it out that a heroin addict needing eight caps a day...which is actually light for a high-user heroin addict. The street rate for a cap today, at least in Vancouver, is about $15 to $20. So that's a habit costing a minimum of $80 a day. And that isn't just weekend stuff. That is $2,400 a month.

    If drugs are legalized but you need $2,400 a month to keep up with the habit, how will you exist, short of stealing or finding some illegal way to get your money to support the habit? Essentially, then, you're stuck with the problem in any event--unless it's government-subsidized, and you'd have a hard time convincing most people in this country to do that.

    So I'd like the three priorities and then I'd like you to answer my scenario. If you legalize drugs, if you don't have prohibition--and I recognize that's a problem--what do you have?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: To answer the point you made about the $2,400-a-month heroin habit, that is $2,400 that the person pays under a system of criminal prohibition. As I pointed out with the figures on the opium from Afghanistan, heroin is not inherently expensive to produce. It is very inexpensive to produce. Most of these drugs are very inexpensive to produce. You could produce enough to maintain a serious cocaine or heroin habit and the true cost of production would be only a few dollars a week. It is not expensive to actually produce it.

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    Mr. Randy White: Don't you think if the government got involved they'd raise that price damned fast?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: There is a legitimate role for government.

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    Mr. Randy White: These guys need money.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Absolutely, but there is a legitimate role for government in dealing with drugs and that is to discourage consumption. We know, for example, that adolescents are very price sensitive to tobacco, so increases in tobacco taxes may not stop consumption by adults so much but they will discourage consumption by young people.

    Taxation obviously generates revenue, but it can also be used as a way to discourage consumption by some groups. The fundamental point is that producing heroin, cannabis, or cocaine is not inherently expensive. Of the $2,400 cost, 95% is a product of the criminal prohibition of those drugs. That's the basic economics of prohibition.

    What programs would I like to see? The dilemma we have is the dilemma of how do we back out from what we have. Alcohol prohibition ended overnight in the United States. Theoretically we could do that here as well. There would be some dislocation and people affected.

    We know, for example, that if we legalized cannabis it would have a significant effect on the B.C. economy, because there is a lot a money made on the black market in B.C. It's a concern that we have to look at. What is the impact going to be not only on Afghan farmers if we legalize opium or whatever, but what is going to happen to the economy of British Columbia if we legalize cannabis?

    The immediate things I would do are measures aimed at saving lives, because I would hope that all of us agree that our top priority should be to save lives, our second priority should be to improve health, and the third priority should be to reduce the harmful consumption of drugs. I think those are all reasonable goals.

    To save lives we need safe, supervised injection sites. It's an absolute necessity. There need to be heroin maintenance programs and expanded methadone programs so that people don't have to go to the street to get drugs of unknown quality or that may be adulterated with something else. Those are two clear measures.

    We should also get rid of our laws on cannabis for adults. When I speak of these things I am speaking of laws for adults in the same way that I don't advocate legalizing the consumption of alcohol for children. We would get the money dealing with cannabis out of law enforcement. That's a total waste of our law enforcement resources.

    Heroin and expanded methadone maintenance programs would help a lot of people. The Swiss have had these programs running for several years. I understand that this committee will be travelling to Europe. You will be going to Switzerland, I hope, and the Netherlands, and Germany.

    The Netherlands just finished a pilot project on heroin maintenance and they found that if addicts are supplied with a clean, safe supply of the drug, their lives become more stable and their level of criminal activity plummets. That is one of the major savings through providing a legal source of supply. The rate of new HIV infections drops dramatically. They are able in many cases to go back to work. They are able to function quite normally in society.

    Most of the harms we associate with these drugs are caused by their prohibition, not by the drugs themselves. One can be a heroin addict and still actually function in society. A heroin addict under a system of prohibition cannot function in society. A heroin addict under a system where it is a medicalized or regulated system can.

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    Mr. Randy White: You haven't answered what I asked. We have been presented with safe injection site concepts and heroin maintenance programs, but you're talking about elimination of prohibition.

    I've dropped the price of a cap from $8 to $2. Surely you would admit that we wouldn't in Canada sell a cap for less than $2. There has to be a little take for the government here. It's just going to happen. That's $480 a month. Heroin addicts don't have $480 a month. They have to live. They have to stay some place. Welfare is not going to pay for it. What are they going to do?

    They are going to break the law to get it. You have said eliminate prohibition. You have not told me if you eliminate prohibition what is different.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I believe I have. Maybe it's a subtle difference in--

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    Mr. Randy White: Not a safe injection site, that doesn't... And heroin maintenance--

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: No, but those are immediate measures to save lives.

    But in terms of heroin maintenance, first, it does not bother me to think that the government would be supplying safe heroin to these people because there would be enormous savings. Every time somebody gets infected with HIV infection we are looking at a cost to society of $100,000 to $150,000.

    Every time somebody has a $2,400-a-month heroin habit they have to steal an enormous amount in order to get that money from a fence. As you well know from your own background--not that you have done it but with your experience with people who have--when one fences goods he or she only gets a small percentage of the value of those goods. These people have to steal an enormous amount. There is that cost to society.

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    Mr. Randy White: So they only have to steal a little less now. We're lucky.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: They might not need to steal at all, because I would argue that in a situation like that it makes perfect sense for the government to supply. It is a minor cost to government and would save an enormous amount of money. If it's a choice between having somebody steal $5,000 or $10,000 worth of merchandise every month, making the community feel unsafe, increasing the risk of HIV infection, or having the government say it will spend $500 a month to help this person, I'm sorry, I'm in favour of helping that person.

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    Mr. Randy White: Now you're getting to where I think you're going: the government should supply heroin. In come those Americans who say “Hey, not a bad place to live. The government actually gives me heroin. I'm avoiding prosecution.” Persecution is what they would call it. Our addicts, our young people, would say “Hey, this isn't a bad idea. The government gives you heroin or a little crack. If we toke up, they pay for it, so this is a good place to live.” Do you really think a responsible parent in this country would buy that argument?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: No, but what we were speaking of is addicts who, instead of paying $2,400 a month, would be supplied with it by government because it would reduce their criminality and the risk of infection. That is essentially being supplied through a medicalized system. That is one of the options for dealing with heroin. That would probably take care of most of the heroin use in this country, because most of the heroin is probably used by a very small group of heavy users--in other words, people who are compulsive users.

    Let's not forget, there is an important and essential role for education in this. Let's not forget one other thing, that every one of us in this room is able to go out right now and get ourselves completely incompetent on legal drugs, alcohol being one of them. Yet as I see it, none of us has.

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    Mr. Randy White: We probably wouldn't be addicted in one, two, or three days. I can't see that.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: That is not necessarily the case with heroin either. Yes, you can develop a dependency with heroin. You can develop a dependency with almost anything. You can develop a dependency with jogging as well, which can have some very harmful consequences.

    There is obsessive behaviour associated with almost any drug, but most people are fairly good at controlling their own consumption. What we really need to look at is why people are using drugs in a destructive fashion. Punishing people for using drugs, which is the present system--we punish people for using drugs, or we drive them to criminality or risk of loss of health through prohibition--does not get at the root of the problem. The root of the problem is, why does some kid use drugs?

    I was in Vancouver on the weekend and met with a group called From Grief to Action. These are middle-class parents. One set of parents have a 20-year-old son who is a bipolar heroin and crack addict, so he has severe mental problems. We need to find out why these people are using drugs. He came from an ostensibly good family. What is it about this person? Was it the mental disorder? Was he self-medicating in order to deal with his mental disorder? Is there some other way we can help treat this person so that in fact he wouldn't need to turn to drugs on a black market such as we have now?

    The current system does not address the fundamental question, which is why most of us do not use drugs in a harmful manner, but why some people do use them in a harmful manner. What prohibition does is attack symptoms. It says, we will punish you for using; we will punish you for selling, for importing, or whatever; we will not deal with the real cause of drug use.

    I hope all members of this committee would agree what we are trying to do is look at why people are using drugs in a destructive fashion and really try to attack that problem, because that, fundamentally, is where we should be going.

º  +-(1610)  

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    The Chair: Thank you. And thank you, Mr. White.

    Monsieur Ménard.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga--Maisonneuve, BQ): Thank you, Madam Chair.

    I may not use all of my 10 minutes because as I was saying earlier I must go to the House of Commons to make a speech on the NDP motion. This is an opposition day, and I apologize in advance.

    You are a professor in the Common Law Faculty of the University of Ottawa, is that correct?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: No, I am on the Criminology Faculty.

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    Mr. Réal Ménard: Criminology, oh, I see.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Yes, but I am a lawyer.

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    Mr. Réal Ménard: You are a lawyer. Well, no one is perfect!

    I am generally in agreement with what you have been saying, but I do have two questions for you.

    Those who, like me, believe that the benefits of decriminalization would be superior to prohibition must answer two questions.

    Firstly, is the reasoning applied across the board? Do you make any distinction between soft drugs and so-called hard drugs?

    Secondly, what do you say to those who state that parliamentarians voted a few years ago in favour of a more draconian regime concerning the use of tobacco, that we live in a society where we are trying to convince people not to smoke, particularly young people? There are a few with us today, in fact, and I welcome them. Also, do you believe that heroin and cocaine, for instance, are less harmful than tobacco?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: With your permission, I will reply in English.

º  +-(1615)  

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    Mr. Réal Ménard: Yes, go ahead.

[English]

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: First of all, would I distinguish between soft and hard drugs? The distinction is muddied. Yes, you need to distinguish amongst all drugs. We treat alcohol differently than we treat tobacco, simply because there are different harms associated with each. We know alcohol is very dangerous if you consume it and drive. That is not an issue generally with tobacco. We know tobacco has long-term consequences and there is, of course, the issue of second-hand smoke.

    The regulatory regime we have developed for alcohol is different from the one we've developed for tobacco. The regulatory regime you would want to develop for a drug would very much depend on the characteristics of the drug. That is a difficult thing to do because it means that instead of just prohibiting, we actually have to look at the harms associated with excessive consumption of this drug. Is there a way we can ensure that people who do use the drug use it safely?

    Caffeine is the best example, because caffeine and cocaine are both central nervous system stimulants. One we have terrible problems with and one is very much part of our society because we use it in very weak doses. There are some dangers associated with caffeine, but the way we've acculturated caffeine into our society is not generally problematic.

    So you need to look at the characteristics of each drug and realize that this drug can have these consequences. Cocaine can actually improve performance. It's a stimulant. Caffeine can keep you awake if you're a truck driver driving late at night. Amphetamines can keep you awake in the short term. In some cases, we really have to look at the individual effects of the drugs and develop regulatory schemes on that basis.

[Translation]

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    Mr. Réal Ménard: I must leave, but I simply want to add that last Thursday we participated in a panel in Toronto with physicians and experts on dependency issues. One of these eminent physicians, whose name I can mention since the minutes of the proceedings are now on the Internet, was Dr. Evans, and he said that he did not want to live in a society where airplane pilots could take marijuana. He felt that way, not necessarily because it is harmful to the point of causing terrible physiological consequences, but because in the long term, it can slow down your decision-making ability.

    I must leave, as I have just received word from my whip. I do apologize, but we will certainly have the opportunity of continuing our discussion in other forums.

[English]

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: If I might respond to that as you are walking out the door, no, I certainly wouldn't want my pilot to be flying on drugs. But there are many things we do that reduce our performance and we don't criminalize them. I think that is the role of education. There's an enormous role for education that we are missing. I think we have the wrong people doing education. Too often the police do drug education, and this should be a public health thing. The police can't really talk about drugs the way our society needs to talk about drugs.

    But I agree; I would never advocate that somebody under the influence--

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    Mr. Réal Ménard: I'm sure your students would not want their teacher to take marijuana when you're making corrections at the end of the session.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Interestingly enough, a few of my students are here today, and I remember telling them a bit earlier this year that it turns out that marijuana seems to help you cope with repetitive, boring tasks. So I thought it might be something they might consider before they come to some of my classes.

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    The Chair: Are you tenured?

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: No, but fortunately my livelihood does not depend on teaching.

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    The Chair: To say nothing of committee meetings.

    Mr. Lee and Dr. Fry.

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    Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough--Rouge River, Lib.): Just to take note of the analogy referred to by Monsieur Ménard--it wasn't his analogy; it was from one of the witnesses in Toronto--I thought it was particularly dumb. I didn't react too negatively then, but since it's been raised again, I'll say it's pretty stupid to suggest anyone around this table would be recommending that people who are high on drugs fly aircraft. We don't advocate that pilots go out and get drunk before they fly an aircraft, either. And Mr. Oscapella is not in that ballpark either, I'm sure.

    I wanted to ask Mr. Oscapella to help me take a bird's-eye view of the politics of this. We've had evidence before the committee here and we've done reading, as members of the committee, that indicates other jurisdictions are now reworking the legal template, the legal framework, they use to address the non-medical use of drugs. In almost every case, the legislators are running into a political inertia or a drag. It seems it's never really been defined for us in a way that's clear what we're dealing with.

    To me, most of the stuff we talk about is pretty obvious. There are facts and figures. I am always struck by the resistance to change, the inertia that's out there--the failure to recognize bankruptcy. I wish we had a chapter 11 for the national drug strategy. I mean, there's so much dysfunction and we don't seem to recognize it.

    I want to ask if you have ever had an opportunity in your work to define or articulate, quantify, that resistance. Be as free as you wish to describe it.

    Is it those who simply think the law should never change? Is it the religious right? Is there a moral template here that I am missing? Help me out here.

º  +-(1620)  

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Thank you very much for asking that question because this is key. If we want to move forward and really reduce the harms associated with drugs, we need to look at where the resistance comes from.

    I think there's obvious resistance from organized crime because they benefit from prohibition. Now to what extent they are corrupting public institutions, I don't know. Mr. Zaccardelli, the RCMP commissioner, said about 18 months ago that Parliament was being put at risk by the corrupting influences of organized crime.

    You're the ones who will have to tell me if that is happening, but certainly there is a vested interest, in organized crime, in retaining prohibition. Of course, organized crime and terrorist groups are starting to work together now, where their interests coalesce, so they are obvious beneficiaries of the current system.

    They're not going to come out and say they love prohibition because it makes them rich, but they work under the table. It's hard to believe, given the hundreds of billions of dollars a year circulating the globe because of the drug trade, that some politicians or senior government officials, even in democratic societies like ours and the United States, are not being corrupted by the influence of organized crime.

    I cannot point to anyone, and it's unfair for me to try to, but the history of greed and the power of organized crime is such that it wouldn't surprise me if that were one of the points of resistance. I don't know if that's the main point, but it's certainly one.

    There are also a lot of people who benefit from prohibition, and that's the issue of profiteers in prohibition. A lot of police get their work out of prohibition. A lot of defence lawyers defend people on drug crimes or crimes related to their commission of crimes, in order to get money. A lot of justice system employees benefit.

    The military equipment makers sell military armaments to the police. We've seen, in the past 10 to 15 years, the increasing militarization of policing in North America. After the end of the cold war--we've had two blips, with the Gulf war and the war in Afghanistan--these armaments manufacturers were looking for new markets. Of course, the drug trade is violent because they use violence to sort of settle their disputes, so they have weapons; therefore, the police need weapons. So the arms suppliers are very interested in prohibition.

    There are 400,000 people in private prisons in the United States. There are private companies that profit, and the more people they have in prisons the more profit they make. They benefit directly from the number of people they have in prisons.

    There's a great deal of racism attached to our drug laws. There's no doubt. It may not be the intended effect, but if you look particularly in the United States where most of the research has been done on this, the enforcement of the drug laws is profoundly racist. For example, at one point I think one in every three young black males between the ages of 18 and 30 was under some form of criminal justice supervision, and much of that was related to the selective enforcement of drug laws. So it plays to the hands of racists.

    There are also people who you would call moral conservatives, moral authoritarians, or whatever, who are going to say, “Look, it's fine for me to drink scotch, but I'll be damned if that kid down the street is going to smoke dope”.

    There are also many people who have legitimate concerns about drugs, as they should. But I think a lot of those people have been very heavily propagandized, and part of what I hope this committee will do is dispel a bit of the fog of propaganda around this issue. I spend six hours with my class, the first two lectures talking about drug propaganda. If people believe the propaganda to be the facts, they won't want to change. So propaganda is a very important tool.

    There are all sorts of players who profit from the system, but they are not going to come out and say they love prohibition. Frankly, politicians also profit from the system. You see it particularly in the United States, but to a certain extent here as well. How many politicians in the United States have you heard say they're going to get tough on drugs? We all know it's a 20-second sound bite you can get out there. To go out and explain how a new policy is going to work takes hours and hours, so it's a lot easier to get elected by saying you're going to get tough on drugs. That's the unfortunate reality of politics too.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: There are members--not necessarily around the table here--in the House of Commons who would fear being labelled as soft on drugs. That might impair their electability. Because of the politics of this, are you suggesting that many of the voters, many of the people out there in the public, subscribe to the propaganda?

º  +-(1625)  

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Absolutely.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: You've tried to outline perhaps the sources of the propaganda, but how do legislators or policy makers counter the propaganda? Is there any hope in countering the propaganda?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: The first thing you have to do is be careful not to propagate further propaganda. There have been some examples of that in recent years, where Canadian politicians have stood up and they have, in good faith, repeated things, but it goes in Hansard, or into the committee proceedings, or something like that, and then this becomes fact because it has a certain authority to it because it comes through an official document. That is one of the things. We have to be very careful about what we say.

    For example, one of the great mythologies of cannabis is that it's a gateway drug. And yet the Canadian Police Association testified that it was internationally accepted that cannabis is a gateway drug. The evidence points totally in the opposite direction, that it's more a stopping point than anything else.

    If parents say, look, I took cannabis when I was a teenager, in the seventies, or something like that, but now they're telling me the stuff is (a) a lot more potent--that's one of the arguments that comes out--and (b) it's a gateway drug, so even if cannabis isn't so bad it leads you to drugs that are bad, you can see why parents say, no, we'd better not touch cannabis. We need to debunk some of the mythology.

    Unfortunately, you have to look at who communicates information about drugs in this country. A lot of times it's police agencies. These people may be well-intentioned, and I believe most of them are, but they're not pharmacologists, and they have a mandate to enforce the drug laws, so they can't really communicate some of this stuff as accurately as we'd like.

    I have an example of one RCMP officer who was quoted in the newspaper--it was quoted by a newspaper, I was not there to see him--as saying that using alcohol makes you drive more slowly, whereas using cannabis makes you drive much more aggressively. The scientific evidence points in exactly the opposite direction. So here we have somebody in a position of authority, someone to be believed, who's actually saying something like that.

    Really, the dilemma is how you go ahead and stand up and say, we're going to be as frank as possible, it's going to hurt. That's what political leadership should be about, I believe. You have to go ahead and say, look, this is going to hurt but we have to see it.

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    The Chair: On that point, we met a young woman, and crystal meth was her favourite drug. She was in a rehab centre. She told us her skill at driving was much better when she was high on crystal meth and that she had trouble driving her Trans Am when she wasn't high. Clearly, she hadn't been put through any scientific demonstrations, but that was part of her justification for her activities.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Certainly drugs can improve performance. The one--

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    The Chair: I don't think crystal meth does.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I don't know. I am before this committee, and I've told this to many people before, but I've never even tried cannabis, so I'm not speaking as a user of these substances.

    But certain drugs do enhance performance. Look at the Olympics. And what do we do? We hammer people because they're using performance-enhancing substances. Yet we turn around and say, in the workplace these are a detriment or they're a danger. In fact, some of these drugs do enhance performance in certain quantities and certain situations, but there's a risk in using them in that environment.

    The scientific research on cannabis and driving is that cannabis alone is not a significant contributor to accidents. In fact, there are some studies that show that drivers under the influence of cannabis are less likely to cause accidents than those who are not under any drug. There's one group to which there may be an exception and that's young, inexperienced drivers. Cannabis may be particularly problematic for them. The real problem with cannabis comes if you mix it with alcohol; then you get a synergistic effect. But then, to me, the problem is alcohol, not cannabis.

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    The Chair: Dr. Fry.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.): I wanted to say that I don't necessarily agree with everything you said, but it's certainly a pleasure to listen to you. You're a lateral thinker, and you have relayed all the complexities of the issues very well. I must say that's great. It's great to listen to you speak today.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Could you tell my students that?

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: Now for the pieces I want to ask you--

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    The Chair: I was at a luncheon last week when a student came up and said, “I took Professor Oscapella's class and he told me...”, and he started reciting everything you had actually taught him.

º  +-(1630)  

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: I think you make an important point, that this is a complex issue and we have to be able to go down all of the little complex lanes when we discuss it.

    This committee is charged with dealing with the issue. I know my colleague, Mr. Lee, didn't actually say this, but what I heard him say is that somewhere along the way we have to learn to look at a problem that has been existing for a long time that we haven't been able to control or deal with appropriately.

    Here we have a challenge to think outside the box. You have put forward some fairly cogent and compelling arguments, as well as challenging us to think outside the box and be bold and innovative in how we deal with the problem society has been pretty ineffective in dealing with in the past.

    The thing about drugs that always intrigues me is that, as you said before, coffee is a drug--so is alcohol, so are cigarettes or tobacco, and so is Aspirin--but the morality of taking illicit drugs is what has been defining this whole issue. We can look back, and you have said very importantly that we need to look at prohibition. I think most of us realize there was a time when alcohol was prohibited, and under prohibition organized crime made tons of money with alcohol.

    When, somewhere along the way, leaders took a very innovative and daring approach and said, we will no longer make alcohol a prohibited drug but bring it out and make it a legal drug, we were at least able to do away with the crime. But you moved one step further and said something that I don't know I necessarily agree with: that it does not necessarily end all the harm, because there is an inherent harm in any pharmacological product.

    One can argue that coffee is bad for you if you take too much of it. One can argue that anything is bad for you if you misuse it.

    You have made some very important points about the criminality and the rise of organized crime that occurs with making drugs illicit, whereas we've seen what happened with alcohol after prohibition.

    What I'm asking, therefore, is whether you are suggesting that one legalize or decriminalize and regulate, because these are the options. Do you legalize or do you decriminalize and regulate? That's the first question I wanted to ask you.

    The second question I wanted to discuss with you is this. Do you believe that by making these drugs controllable, or regulated and decriminalized, or legalized--whichever one you're suggesting--we would have the ability to do better surveillance, to understand the statistical use of these drugs differently, or do some research so we could deal with the negative results of these drugs?

    Those are the two questions I wanted to ask you.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Thank you very much, Dr. Fry.

    Actually, my first appearance before a Commons committee was in 1984, I believe it was, when you were on the health subcommittee.

º  +-(1635)  

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: 1994.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I'm sorry, 1994, that's right. The years fly by. The health subcommittee was examining what is now Bill C-8.

    I'd like to answer the second question first. If you regulate, yes, you can do research much more effectively. One of the problems we have with marijuana right now, in the therapeutic use of marijuana, is that there have not been a lot of controlled studies on its use. The drug has been illegal. There has been a real resistance to conducting those sorts of studies. So it would give us an opportunity to do better research to look at some of the harms associated with these drugs.

    Right now they're doing research on the effect of cocaine on monkeys because it would be unethical to do research on the effect of cocaine on humans, even though we would do research on the effect of alcohol on humans. Monkeys and humans sometimes react differently to certain drugs. So that would probably enable us to do better research.

    It would also free up the resources to do that. Remember that the Auditor General's report said that we spend $500 million a year in this country at the federal level on drugs, and 95% of that goes to law enforcement. So we could make very much better use of the resources in that circumstance.

    On the issue of legalizing or decriminalizing, unfortunately there's no universal understanding of what legalizing and decriminalizing mean. To some people, legalizing means taking away all controls. When I speak of legalizing drugs, I speak of a legal regulatory regime as opposed to a criminal regime. So it would move drugs out of the criminal justice system, by and large, with the possible exception of sales to minors. I don't think prohibiting sales to minors is going to work any more than it does now in any event, but some people will feel comfortable with that.

    A legal regulatory regime I think is the way to go for many drugs, but let's not forget that there's a whole range of alternatives between total prohibition and total, uncontrolled legalization. You can ration, you can tax, you can make it available. The location where you make the drugs available can be one thing. For example, you could have safe injection sites or heroin maintenance programs, as the Swiss do, where heroin addicts go in and they go on site and inject their heroin on site. So the place of consumption could be part of it. It could be dealt with through the medical profession or the health care profession or through sociologists or something like that, or it could be, as we do with alcohol, left largely to adults to decide whether they are going to consume alcohol.

    If we look historically, there's an excellent book called The Pursuit of Oblivion. It just came out a few months ago, and I can give you the details of it later. I can't remember the author's name, but he traces the history of drug use from 1500 to the present.

    You were speaking of the issue of morality, and what you see is a real change in attitude towards people who use drugs. In the 19th century people who used drugs were not seen as criminals. In the 20th century, by and large, we've viewed drug users as criminals. That shift in attitude towards users has skewed our policies towards them. They were seen as unfortunate people. If people had problems with opium or heroine or cocaine in the 19th century, that was seen as something unfortunate. These people weren't considered inherently evil or worthy of criminal sanction, but somehow that changed, and that's where morality crept into the matter.

    Normally you'd like to think that the law responds to moral issues in one sense, but you can almost argue that in fact the law created the morality. We prohibit something and then people say, “Because it's prohibited, it must be bad; therefore, people who use it must be bad”. We've created this cycle where we've created a morality that might not have otherwise existed, and it's impeding us in our attempts to go ahead and reach a reasonable resolution of some of these issues.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: You mentioned that the biggest harm done by the use of certain substances is really in its criminal activity, its support of organized crime, its support of terrorism, etc. However, there is a pharmacological component of the harm done by drugs. Even when you do legalize it within some model of regulation, at the end of the day there is pharmacological harm done to the body by certain drugs.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Absolutely.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: There's damage to the liver, etc.

    With marijuana, which I know a lot of people think is a very soft drug and love to talk about it that way, I know there is compelling evidence that it impairs cognitive ability and that it stays in the lipid tissues for up to six months. If you are a chronic marijuana user, you continue to keep that life of six months in the lipid tissues, most of which is the brain, and eventually long-term cognitive ability is impaired and memory is impaired, etc.

    The point I'm making is that even Aspirin can cause ulcers. Every drug does physiological harm to the body because of its pharmacological effects. The only thing that I feel one doesn't want to do in terms of propaganda is to put the propaganda to the other end of the pendulum and say drugs do no harm.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Yes, absolutely.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: I want to know what your position is on moving to the other end of the propaganda scale by saying drugs do no harm.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Well, first of all, I would never say drugs do no harm. As you know, you can die from an overdose of water. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs kill 7,000 to 10,000 people a year in North America. I don't think cannabis is a harmless drug, but then again, I don't think fast-food hamburgers are harmless foods either. We don't incarcerate people for that. What we try to do is educate people about body mass index, about healthy eating habits. We encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle. But I could make a very good case for incarcerating people for overeating, because, as you know, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in this country, and one of the major contributors to heart disease is poor diet and lack of exercise. Education is key, and also teaching people respect for themselves.

    It seems to happen quite often... I mean, some people who use drugs use them because they're thrill seekers. Others use them because... about 80% of the population drinks alcohol. Maybe you go to a party and have a glass of wine or something. It relaxes you. You enjoy it. Many of us use drugs like that. But there are other people who use drugs to cope with certain trauma in their lives, and we really need to deal with those people. The education should never go ahead and argue that this is harmless.

    What I would like to do is see us say, here's what we know about cannabis, here's what we know about alcohol, here's what we know about cocaine, here's what we know about all these things. We don't know everything, because we're going to learn something new every day. We're going to learn something new every year about these things. But given the best science we have, these are the potential harms--and the possible benefits--from using these things. Cocaine used to be used for dental surgery. Morphine is very helpful in reduction of pain. Cannabis may be as well. So here are the benefits and harms associated with these drugs. Have respect for your bodies. Get exercise. Don't eat too many fatty foods. Don't use drugs in a way that could cause you long-term harm.

    This is the message we want to get. By moving away from criminalizing drugs, I'm not condoning drug use. I don't think that should ever be interpreted as the message. There are many things we disapprove of in our society that we do not criminalize. Education is key. You will never hear me saying that cannabis is harmless. The way that most people use it, it appears to not cause any significant harm. But we know that some people are going to be harmed by it. That's the message we have to get out.

º  +-(1640)  

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    The Chair: Thank you.

    Body mass index, of course, is a very sensitive topic in the Liberal caucus these days, with the Prime Minister having the best one.

    Mr. White.

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    Mr. Randy White: I'm concerned about this water I'm drinking.

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    The Chair: That's right, but that's for a whole series of other reasons.

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    Mr. Randy White: No, I think I'll pass and digest this.

    Go ahead if you have a question, Derek.

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    The Chair: Derek.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: One of the acute information pieces I had to assimilate over the last few years--this was publicly reported and I assumed it to be true--was that the individual who was in American baseball, the home-run hitter king... I've forgotten his name, forgive me.

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    A voice: Mark McGwire?

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    Mr. Derek Lee: It was McGwire. I didn't want to mention the name, but in any event, he was a great hero and a good athlete. The point is that he was regularly consuming a drug to enhance his performance. It was found out either just before or just after he was breaking the home-run records. It turns out that the drug was not--I'm saying this for the record--an illegal drug, but it was a legal performance-enhancing drug.

    I really couldn't figure out why professional sport didn't address that, but they did not. Yet within months of that, we had a disqualification at the Olympics of an individual whose blood had evidence of drug use--a drug that wasn't performance-enhancing, that had nothing to do with his performance in the Olympics.

    I just saw so much ignorance and hypocrisy surrounding all of that. That's a bit of an informational backdrop to what you are describing, in terms of having to look at each drug, if we want to call it a drug, figure out what it is, and whether it should be controlled, or whatever.

    I don't think we're going to get to where we might want to go in one step here, in terms of what we recommend. We're not controlling the world from our committee here. We're going to report to our colleagues in the House and see where it goes from there.

    In terms of reform, if appropriate, and first steps, where do you think we could make a first step or a second step? Mr. White asked about priorities. In terms of really concrete legislative or policy reform, after I tell my colleagues in the House that the national drug strategy is a bankrupt joke and a charade, etc., what could I recommend as a first step, to head us back in the right direction?

º  +-(1645)  

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: If we look at the sort of ethical priorities, saving lives should be the first. That's where I get back to the issue of heroin maintenance programs, expanded--

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    Mr. Derek Lee: I realize that. That may be an overall objective. You've told us what those objectives should be and I agree with them all, but what about a first step? What about a concrete step? Everybody wants to save lives. Everybody wants to be rational and spend public money prudently. Everybody wants good public health education, but federally, legislatively, policy-wise, what could be our first step?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: The first step would be to come out with proposals for changing the law--not necessarily a bill, but proposals.

    You have to do an honest job of public education. That is key. You will encounter resistance. You'll get resistance from the American government; there is no doubt about it. But look to Europe, because Europe is moving in a more sensible direction. That is the first thing, and it's not even a legislative measure.

    Remember that the Minister of Health has the authority under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to exempt any person or class of persons from the application of the law. So it wouldn't even require legislative change. That in fact, as you know, was the way access to medical marijuana was first made available; it was through a ministerial exemption under section 56.

    The minister could easily, with the stroke of a pen--and that easily, although obviously there are political considerations--use the existing law, which provides that way of dealing with it, to set up some of these programs. That is something that could be done even within the existing legal framework.

    One of the most wasteful applications of our law, I would argue, involves cannabis. That is not a life-saving measure; it's just a misapplication of resources. If we could divert some of those resources back into treatment, research, and a better understanding of dependencies and why people use drugs, and into dealing with the underlying social issues that may support this harmful form of drug use, that would be very good as well.

    I don't know if the initial measures have to be legislative. There is also a Supreme Court of Canada hearing coming up on the constitutionality of Canada's cannabis laws. They could toss that law out. Basically the way I look at that activity by the court is that they're going to be asking themselves whether the court has the power to review a dumb decision by a government to criminalize something 80 years ago. They may say they don't have the power to review it, but the court could do something.

    I guess another major thing is we need to stop treating drugs as a partisan issue. Frankly, that was my concern when I heard about the creation of this committee and the truncation of the mandate of the Senate committee, because the Senate traditionally is somewhat less partisan than the House of Commons, for very obvious reasons.

    The original Senate committee, as you recall, had a very broad mandate that was narrowed to cannabis, and your mandate is very broad.

    The Dutch seemed to move ahead because they treated drugs as a non-partisan issue. I think that is where we really need to go. There is a real danger. I think Mr. White pointed out when the committee was first set up that we've got to stop finger-pointing at each other. There are some things where partisanship is useful; there are other areas where it is inherently disruptive. Because of the sensitivity of this issue--the public sensibilities when you talk about drugs and the effect of decades of propaganda--it is very easy to capitalize on it by treating drugs in a partisan way. It is extraordinarily important to try to deal with the issue in a collegial rather than a partisan fashion. Otherwise we won't go ahead with it.

    There are going to be plenty of opponents--and people with money. The American government is going to bellyache, just as many European governments bellyached when the Dutch went their way. But now many European governments are moving onside that way.

    I think that is one of the things.

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    The Chair: I think most of my colleagues who are on this committee would agree this is probably the single least partisan committee any of us have experienced. Derek may know of others, but it's pretty unpartisan. You'll be happy to know that.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Yes, I am.

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    The Chair: I guess I have a question. You've mentioned bits about it, but let's say we were to legalize or decriminalize all drugs in Canada and set up a system of distribution that would maybe be like the LCBO stores--or maybe it would be doctors. Some have suggested we could raise tax revenue. There are some who've said, like The Economist article, “Yes, you might have some people who will become more addicted or who develop a bigger habit, but you can deal with that, and you'd save all those other interdiction costs, so it would be manageable.”

    Then you could keep track of quality and quantity and what have you, and for some of the drugs make sure that people are getting the stuff they are supposed to get, instead of Drano or whatever else can be cut into some of the drugs.

    How do you see it? What do you see happening if we were to decriminalize all the drugs in Canada?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: First, I don't think there would be a significant increase in consumption. Peter Cohen from the University of Amsterdam testified before the Senate committee. He has worked on the drug policy for many years and he essentially said the law has nothing to do with whether people use drugs or not.

    Rates of cannabis use in the Netherlands are lower than they are in the United States. They are lower than they are in Britain, both of which have relatively tough laws on cannabis.

    The rates go up and down according to the culture one lives in, friends, peer group, and all sorts of things, but the law is not really a determining factor. One of the important issues that has to be addressed is whether there will be a significant increase in harmful consumption.

    It doesn't matter if there is an increase in consumption if that consumption doesn't cause harm. If 10% more people use cannabis but there is no harm caused by it, then it is not a problem, but if they go into binge use of it or binge drinking of alcohol, then there is a problem.

    We have to be willing to accept that there might in some cases be an initial increase in use, but the factors that lead people to use drugs are not really linked to the law and are not going to lead to a massive increase in use. We can ensure people's safety by making sure they get safer, quality products.

    It's very hard to say that we should just have the same scheme for everybody across the board. That said, with alcohol it is all alcohol, but one can buy hard spirits in a liquor store or beer. One is 4% and the other is 40% alcohol. They have vastly different qualities but they are subject to the same regulatory regime.

    We need to look at the characteristics of each drug, at the harms we are trying to prevent, and then try to figure out the best regulatory or educational mechanism, or treatment mechanism, for dealing with those harms. It is a complex issue in that sense.

    I would argue that if we took away all legal control on drugs we would be better off than we are now, but I think we can do much better than that through an intelligent system of regulation. This could involve taxation to discourage some forms of consumption, and encouragement, as we have done with alcohol, to move people to lower-alcohol beers and move them away from hard spirits, thereby trying to create social norms, such that it's now considered stupid to drive while drunk. And I think that is as good a contributor to the reduction of alcohol behind the wheel as the criminal law was. We have to look at all the factors we can bring into play given the harms associated with this or that drug.

    There is the expertise available to do that. I'm a lawyer. I'm not a pharmacologist or a public health expert, but certainly I can rely on people to say this would be the best way to reduce the harms associated with cocaine or get people away from cocaine, which people are now injecting 20 times a day if they are heavy users.

    If they go on to heroin, many of them, although they are vastly different drugs, seem to reduce their cocaine consumption in many cases. I would rather have somebody on heroin injecting three times a day than somebody on cocaine injecting 20 times a day. We need to look at measures that might reduce the harms in that sense.

    It is extraordinarily complex on the one hand and extraordinarily simple on the other. Prohibition doesn't work. What do we replace it with? How do we replace it? That's where we all need to work together.

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    Mr. Randy White: I have a televised debate on marijuana. I don't suppose you're going, are you, Eugene?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I'm not in it.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: I have two very short questions for Mr. Oscapella. First, do you think there is any benefit in us recommending that there be the equivalent of some kind of a drug czar, a firmer administrative coordination of any of the administrative reforms we might recommend, or is the ministry of health as it's now constructed a suitable leader? Does it have the ability to provide the leadership in whatever comes down the pipeline?

    Second, is it time for us, or is it useful, to say in our report that no matter what we or anyone does there will always be something like a core rate of drug dependence in our societies around the world, that one way or another there will be individuals who will develop some type of a dependency for various different types of drugs? Let's not pursue the fairy tale ending of zero tolerance. It's like a core rate of unemployment; we will never have zero unemployment. There is always some. Would it be useful for us to say something like that?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: On the second question, yes, there will always be. There's not a society--one exception, perhaps, being the most northern societies of our world, until, of course, modern transportation came in--where you couldn't make drugs that have a psychoactive effect, where you couldn't brew alcohol or things like that. But virtually every other society, and many animals as well, have a history of using psychoactive substances. That's part of the human experience. We all do it, whether it be with caffeine or theobromines in tea, or alcohol; we all alter our states of consciousness. That's part of the human experience.

    We have to explain that, and we have to say that zero tolerance, as you say, is not a realistic possibility. You can have zero tolerance, but you'll never achieve zero drug use. And I'm not sure you want to in a society, in any event, because it is so much a part of our human condition--whether it be sacramental wine or the drugs that most of us manage to use in social circumstances. So yes, I think that would be important to say. And there's ample historical evidence in the literature that drugs and altering our state of consciousness is part of our lives. The five-year-old girl who spins around on a merry-go-round and falls off and gets dizzy is experimenting with altering her state of consciousness. That is part of the human condition.

    Do we need a drug czar? If the drug czar's position is not one of law enforcement, yes. Because I think there are many different components to a drug strategy, and to leave it within one department is perhaps not the best way to go about things. If you look at the mandate of Health Canada, you wonder how they got this legislation, which is essentially, in its real effect, criminal legislation, where you can, under the provisions of the act, be sentenced to life in prison for some offences. How is this something that is part of Health Canada?

    We really do need a central coordinating body, perhaps a drug policy commission, in this country. The law reform commission at one point had a drug policy working group. Maybe that's something we need, a drug policy commission that could draw on the policing expertise, the pharmacological expertise, the medical expertise, the sociological expertise, and the treatment expertise--bring all those people together and work in a multidisciplinary fashion to tackle these issues.

    Have ten specialists sit around the room--and drug users as well, because they are very much a part of it, and they have to be part of this process too--and say “Well, look, what can we do?” Have the lawyers say “Look, these are the legal consequences of this measure you're looking at.” Have the pharmacologists say “This is what we might do to lessen the harms associated with this drug.” Have the medical people give their input. Something like that could be very effective.

    But give them some administrative authority to schedule or deschedule drugs, for example. The whole process we have now of scheduling drugs is... I have no idea how drugs get added to the schedule of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It's something that seems to be hidden away. It would be better to have an organization with multidisciplinary expertise to look at these things, and give them perhaps some quasi-legislative power or some administrative power to schedule drugs and to recommend regulations or whatever. That could be a very effective way to draw together that expertise.

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    The Chair: Ms. Fry.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: I think it's very interesting, to go back to the moral concept of addiction, that governments have begun to legalize one of the most addictive behaviours known, and that is gambling. Government is making money hand over fist. They've just legalized gambling, yet we know how addictive it is. So there is a history of government legalizing things that have been addictive.

    And speaking of performance-enhancing drugs, the best performance-enhancing drug I know of is coffee. There's been enough work done to show that the performance of people who drink coffee on a regular basis is increased when they're given coffee and decreases if they are deprived of coffee over a 24-hour period. It's not just the headache you get, but you actually have decreased performance, and your performance goes up when you're given coffee. It is a performance-enhancing drug. So we need to take the morality away from it.

    One of the things you said in response to Derek's question was that you felt some sort of multidisciplinary body would be the one that would look at implementing a drug strategy, but at the same time, if you were going to bring in regulations, it would have to be within a department. Would you see that department being the Department of Health, in terms of looking at the Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Act? Would that be the place to put it, so there could be the regulatory mechanisms to put around it? Then the implementation of the strategy could come under this broader multidisciplinary....

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Well, Dr. Fry, we have argued for years that drugs should be treated as a health and social issue, so that would seem to be the logical place for it to be. Unfortunately, we have this mismatch right now where we essentially have criminal legislation being administered by the Minister of Health.

    The example of gambling is a very good one. That's an example of governments deciding they can prop up communities by allowing this, so they'll advertise it. You can go over to the casino in what is now Gatineau. That's advertising. They sponsor all sorts of things. I don't know if that's what we want to do with drugs, as we've done with alcohol. There's a very good point for restricting advertising and trying to prevent whatever regulatory regime develops from turning into a major profit centre for organizations. We don't want that, because again, that gives people a vested interest, as people now have in pushing certain drugs in certain ways.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: Can I ask you one last question? Do you have a history on what happened? How did it happen? If you recall, prohibition was huge in the United States; hence the FBI being formed, etc. Then suddenly, some government decided this was not working. What is the history of that? How long did it take before governments realized that in fact this created organized crime?

    You talked about Canada and whether the U.S. would be upset. Canada did not have prohibition. We were able to stand on our own two feet in those days and say that we weren't going to necessarily do what the U.S. was doing. So you make a very important point on that one.

    But how did they move from the old temperance, with women who were saying this is bad and from a moral point of view alcohol is wrong and the temperance society leagues that brought about the prohibition? How did the government decide to move from that? Can you just give me the history of that, quickly?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I'm not well informed on the exact dynamics that led to it. What I understand, though, is that one of the most potent forces for change was the women's movement in the United States. Women got very upset at seeing the violence, seeing their family members incarcerated, seeing them victimized by prohibitionist drug laws and things like that. So essentially, in many ways, it was a grassroots movement.

    Of course, alcohol prohibition was not as firmly entrenched as drug prohibition is. We've had drug prohibition in this country starting effectively in 1908. We've had 80 years of prohibition, so it's tougher, and there's more propaganda. The vested interests in maintaining prohibition have had more time to develop, so there's a tougher battle in moving away from drug prohibition.

    But there certainly is some literature. Perhaps what I can do, when I get the transcript of this hearing, is go through it and see if there's further information I can forward. I'll forward to the research staff an explanation of how that did occur in the United States.

    Of course, I was not alive during prohibition, but I must confess that I remember my father telling me about my grandfather. I come from a drug cartel family myself. My grandfather, who lived in Milton, Ontario, used to make alcohol and ride 35 miles on a rickety bicycle, on rough roads, into Toronto to sell it. Maybe some of that went down to the United States, so maybe what you're seeing is the semi-legitimate product of a drug runner.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: Can we seize the proceeds of crime here?

    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Let me tell you one thing about drug policy reform. Unfortunately, there's no money to make. All the money is on the other side of the equation.

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    The Chair: It's interesting. I guess the answer hidden in there is that in Canada it was women in the temperance movement trying to stop alcohol who got women elected. Maybe we just have to get all those moms. The group you met with from Vancouver--

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: From Grief to Action. That's a wonderful group of people.

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    The Chair: We had an amazing presentation from one of the mothers.

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    Ms. Hedy Fry: Don't the French have it right: le problème et la solution?

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    The Chair: Just before we finish, I did have a question vis-à-vis the United States and the UN treaties. Well, it's not just the United States, but it's within the UN treaty system. The Americans and some of our famous B.C. export... Marilyn also wanted to ask this.

    Why don't you ask it, Marilyn?

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    Ms. Marilyn Pilon (Committee Researcher): In terms of regulation of marijuana or the steps that might be taken in the event that legislative change... It doesn't even have to be legislative change; it could just be changes in the way the law is administered. One of the things Canada is facing right now, apparently, is a number of disgruntled people in the United States who see British Columbia as a net exporter of some drugs to their country.

    It's one thing to deal with those drugs inside Canada, but how do you deal with the issue of limiting export to other countries, and would you deal with that issue?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: It's a very important issue. The United States has been very vocal about Canada's more tolerant attitude toward drugs, even though we are very punitive here. As you well know, we are not nearly as punitive as the United States, not that being punitive helps.

    You can retain strict criminal penalties on exporting. Right now life imprisonment is the maximum penalty for exporting drugs. I see no difficulty in maintaining that. That's not going to affect the problem in Canada. We can still have our own solution.

    There are real political considerations in dealing with the United States, as you well know, and they keep waving the treaties at us. The treaties themselves are not as much of an impediment as they are made out to be. Each of these treaties has a clause allowing the country to denounce the treaty. So we can back out of these treaties. There are also human rights conventions. A very strong argument can be made that our drug control treaties end up violating a lot of the fundamental norms of human rights that are really at the foundation of international law. As well, all of these treaties are subject to the foundational norms of the countries to which the treaties apply. There are those three ways of dealing with the treaties. Finally, the provisions in a lot of the treaties are not as strict as they are made out to be by people who wave the treaties and say you can't do it because of treaties. So there is a way of dealing with the treaties.

    I think in Europe we will probably see countries moving away from these treaties. There is enormous American pressure to remain signatories to these treaties, unfortunately. That's the reality of the world we live in.

    Let's not forget that, historically, the United States government has also tolerated drug trafficking by ideologically aligned groups in other countries. We are probably seeing it right now in Colombia with the right-wing paramilitary. We certainly saw it in Nicaragua in the 1980s. Perhaps they even abetted drug trafficking out of Laos during the Vietnam War. I don't know for sure, but it's quite conceivable they would have tolerated drug trafficking by the Northern Alliance as a vehicle for them to get money to help them fight the recent war in Afghanistan. So there are a lot of interests at play in this game.

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    The Chair: The testimony from Tuesday afternoon will be of great interest to you. We had as a witness an MP from England named Flynn. He said he's quite concerned about what is going to happen in Afghanistan given that it could very much turn into another Colombia in terms of the approach on drugs and different factions raging war.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I just got hold of an RCMP criminal intelligence briefing, which was released under the access to information legislation. They suggested--and this was the first time I had heard of this--that the military action in Afghanistan was not aimed only at rooting out the al-Qaeda and the Taliban but that they were also going after drug-production facilities. This suggests that--

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    The Chair: In the seizures we saw, they had used Bernard Callebaut chocolate wrappers, and then on the plastic inside where the heroin was, there were “free Afghanistan” logos. So there definitely is something to this. If they are allied with them, it's going to be interesting to see how it is going to work in the post period.

    Derek Lee.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: My assistant just passed me a press clipping from yesterday on that very point. It says that the estimated opium production in Afghanistan this year would yield 4,600 tonnes, which is as high as it ever was in the past.

    Having said 4,600 tonnes, I want to go back and confirm a statistic. It was a quantity and it had to do with a container of cocaine. Was it one container? Was it a 60-foot or a 90-foot container?

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: It's one container of cocaine. You're looking at about 30,000 pounds.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: That would supply Canada for a whole year based on current consumption.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Our annual heroin requirement is two tonnes. So that would fit in the back corner of one of those containers.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: All right. Visually that means a lot when you look at the amount of money we spend interdicting, enforcing, prosecuting, incarcerating, studying, researching, and debating in Parliament. We spend a lot of resources on what is one or two or three containers of a commodity.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: It's virtually impossible to stop. We can't keep it out of prisons. How can we keep it out of a country like this, especially when prohibition creates the incentive to bring it in?

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    The Chair: If we could have an answer on the second question, Mr. Sorenson wasn't here, and that question really does drive him to distraction.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: I'm sorry, which was the second question, again?

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    The Chair: How do we keep it out of prison?

    He wasn't with us today, but it is an extreme pet peeve of his.

    Colleagues, I also would direct you to the CBC radio report this morning on the Senate committee on defence, talking about the Port of Montreal. Their report comes out tomorrow, I think--although I don't know how they're doing a report tomorrow if the Senate's not sitting; anyway, it's supposed to come out in the next couple of days. It focuses on the Port of Montreal and the inability to keep track of substance.

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    Mr. Derek Lee: Are we adjourned?

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    The Chair: I will adjourn.

    Thank you very much for your thought-provoking discussion. We look forward to hearing from you in the future. If there are things you see that we should be reading or contemplating, we'd be very happy to have your continued input.

    Our real clerk, who's home sick today, is the controller of the e-mail, so please send it to her.

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    Mr. Eugene Oscapella: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and members of the committee.

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    The Chair: Thanks. We are adjourned.

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