Saturday, January 20, 2007

Going nowhere fast, and spending a fortune to do it
Jan. 19, 2007

If you’re the type to worry about where we’re headed in this world, these are bleak times.
We’re at one of those points in history where things on any number of fronts are either going to get much better or a whole lot worse based on whatever we do next. Unfortunately, we’re showing few signs of being up for the challenge.
I’ve often wondered at what point a community ignites. How did the small, brave acts of people in the U.S. finally explode into the civil rights movement? What finally elevated gay rights to being a legitimate issue that mattered?
To know that would perhaps be the secret to unlocking this national stupor of ours, one that seems to render us incapable of addressing an array of really serious problems unfolding around us.
We would not for a moment be so cavalier in our personal lives. We wouldn’t continue to do things that clearly weren’t working, or spend vast sums of money without ever questioning the benefit.
Yet we tolerate it for our country. We see the error of our ways, yet continue down the same path anyway. It turns out the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.
I can only hope for revolution.
No violence, of course - nothing truly good ever comes from that. But we’re way overdue for a peaceful uprising, something much bigger than just another election. Either that or go mad from all the senseless, short-sighted decision making that has accumulated to a point of crisis.
The issue of the moment is our national drug “strategy,” which has once more been revealed as being both tremendously expensive and completely ineffective at the same time.
This time it’s B.C.’s Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS pointing the finger, noting that the federal government’s promises three years ago to do better have yet to materialize. Meanwhile, the country’s drug problems set us back $2.5 billion and we didn’t even make a dent in them.
I suppose it comes down to a battle between those who believe we just need to crack down a little harder on drugs, and those who think that living through several miserable decades of that tired old strategy ought to be proof enough that it doesn’t work.
The most damning evidence that it doesn’t is the relentless climb in drug use. Ten years ago, 28.5 per cent of Canadians had consumed illicit drugs in their lifetime. Now, 45 per cent have. A survey two years ago found that almost 270,000 Canadians were currently injecting drugs.
The worst of the impact can be seen in the heart of our communities, where the homeless and the addicted pile up in disturbingly larger numbers. But the true toll of our adherence to flawed drug policy is much greater than that.
It encompasses lost income and family disaster. Rising infection rates. A growing health burden. A truly staggering annual bill for policing: $1.4 billion.
All that money spent, and not a damn thing accomplished.
How can that not be the stuff of revolution? Instead, we tolerate more of the same. We curse the waste, but do nothing more than to mark an “X” every four or five years beside the name of whatever local candidate tickled our fancy in the runup to the election.
Like so many issues that paralyze our nation, the drug debate comes down to strong differences in opinion among us. Nothing wrong with a difference in opinion. But when you’ve tried it one way and have all the stats to prove that it didn’t work, it’s time to put opinion in its place and get down to the business of fixing things.
In terms of drug policy, we are torn between those who still think we can “stamp out” drug use, and those who know we can’t. Once upon a time, we probably didn’t know which was the right course to take.
But decades on, we can’t say that anymore. We’ve given far more years and money than we should have to flawed strategies based on the criminalization of drug use.
I don’t have an Ipsos-Reid survey in my pocket to back me up, but I suspect a majority of Canadians would agree with that. I think they’re tired of everything to do with our failed drug strategies - from having their cars broken into, to seeing their income taxes frittered away on ineffective programs even while people howl for more services.
But will we revolt? That doesn’t seem to be the Canadian way.
Tremendous changes are occurring around us, from urban decay to climate change, from a rise in drug use to a drop in health and fitness. Still, our concern and indignation rarely develop past the level of mildly testy water-cooler conversation.
Surely the moment has to come soon - the one that finally sets a fire under us. Here’s hoping for an inferno.


j said...

I wonder what the "45%" now have used drugs in their lifetimes translates to in terms of regular current drug use--perhaps there's an element of changing values overall. I suspect the stats on things like number of sex partners would also be higher while probably "have driven drunk" would be lower compared to the entire population 10 years ago.

I think many who oppose the reduction in legal sanctions for drug use would be shocked to go back 100 years or so and see how much tolerance (perhaps coupled with apathy) there was for things that will now earn criminal status for users. I worry, though, that the difference is the targeting of younger people as a market for for drugs when we compare then to now.

Perhaps I'm wrong, though--I haven't researched it.

I fear your revolution will be sabotaged by more conservative attitudes prevalent in other provinces, national focus elsewhere on Quebec appeasement or medicare deterioration, and American hysteria about any laxity in drug laws just across their northern border.

Still, as usual, I agree with you.

Stephen K said...

I don't think an actual revolution is terms of systemic overthrow will happen, peaceful or not.

Martin Luther King said in a speech in 1967 that we need a "radical revolution of values." I think that's the kind of revolution that's attainable, and preferable.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered what would start a revolution, an uprising or even an active outrage. Many of us have been working on these issues for many many years.

We know that the answers are an afternoon class in origami - convoluted, mutli-layered, ever entwined. We know that families need to be supported, that children in care need to be treated and supported better, that health care, mental health care and poverty need to be addressed, that our society needs some care taking.

However, our money is being put into smaller, and more specific places instead of the broad issues that really are the crumbling foundation. How do you support families when you've cut welfare off? closed down schools? cut special needs teachers?

It's fine to say that we have to put more money into this and that, but we must also *keep* money where it needs to be. It is useless to put money into addictions treatments when we cut supports to foster families for example. This will only happen if maintaining the health of a society becomes a priority.
Until then we staunch the flow the best we can.