Drug Policies And Current Trends

February 2nd, 2012 - D. Stone

Just as the Harper government has tightened Canada's drug laws under its new omnibus crime legislation, the Liberal Party has agreed to include the decriminalization of marijuana into its policy platform following its 2012 national convention. Questions now come to mind regarding Canada's statistics on drug abuse and alcohol consumption. Since 2009, according to Health Canada, drug abuse has been on a steady decline, particularly amongst Canada's youth. 

To many young Liberals, the Conservative government's stance on drug criminalization seems redundant and backwards at a time when drug abuse, and crime in general, has been steadily declining. To steadfast Tories, current statistics show a need to keep the trend low and to keep the decline steady by strengthening laws and punishments for drug offenders.

Between 2004 and 2010, use of cannabis fell by more than 3% amongst Canadians 15 years and older. On the other hand, for Canadians between 15 and 24, cannabis use is three times higher than for Canadians 25 and over and almost nine times higher for drugs other than cannabis. Reports of heavy drinking amongst Canadians between 15 and 24 is also three times higher than amongst Canadians 25 and over. These statistics come from Health Canada's Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey for 2010. Statistics for 2011 are not yet available.

It is unlikely that 2011 statistics will show an increase in drug and cannabis use amongst Canadians as trends since 2004 have shown steady declines. In 2010, one out of every ten Canadians over 15 had reported trying or regularly using cannabis within a year.  

According to a 2007 report by the United Nations, Canada's cannabis use is four times higher than the global rate of cannabis use. In the Netherlands, where cannabis use is legal, only half the amount of cannabis is consumed when compared to Canadian usage.

Although cannabis use has been declining, global trends show that marijuana usage is highest in Canada when compared to other countries, including the United States. To the more socially conservative voter, these statistics are troubling. To the more liberal voter, these statistics prove that current drug laws are ineffective and that further prosecution of drug users is destructive, considering the harmless nature of cannabis in particular.

For stiffer drugs, like cocaine and heroin, Liberals have had a tradition of prefering rehabilitation over punishment. This policy does fall in line with the opinions of doctors and current U.S. statistics that have shown high levels of recidivism amongst those imprisoned for drug abuse. In Canada's current system, criminal records have proven destructive in the hunt for successful careers amongst drug offenders, given that more employers today are requesting background checks when considering new employees. This may play a significant role in trends of recividism amongst drug users and sellers that have been reported in Canada.

Tories have traditionally gone down the route of punishment over rehabilitation. This policy has several benefits, including deterence and disruption of distribution. However, statistics involving deterence are difficult to acquire due to the nature of the questions that would need to be asked in such surveys. Statistically, the effectiveness of deterence has been difficult to measure. Crime legislation has been inconsistent in the past when attempting to measure levels of successful deterence. At times crime has increased following stiffer legislation, while at other times the opposite has occurred.

The effects of the new omnibus crime bill may or may not be difficult to measure. Only upon the release of statistics from 2012 will we be able to successfully guage its effectiveness. If the statistical trends of decline continue amongst drug users into 2012, without a significant increase in downward momentum, it would be very difficult to praise the omnibus crime bill. If we see a sharp increase in downward momentum in an already steady decline, only then could the Tories claim success with their legislation. A stop in the trending decline would only prove the bill's failure. Worse yet, an increase in drug abuse amongst Canadians 15 and over in 2012 could render the bill a complete disaster.