Opinion: 4 ways BC is doubling down on the war on drug users

Mar 15 2019, 4:38 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Dana Larsen, Director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, Organizer for Vancouver 4/20, and author of books including Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone.

Despite growing calls to end prohibition, the BC NDP are still passing laws to stigmatize, criminalize and punish drug users.

Here’s four ways BC Premier John Horgan’s government is doubling down on the deadly war on drug users.

1. Forfeiture laws

The NDP has just announced a new law to make it even easier to take money and property from people who have not been charged with any crime.

The BC government can already take your home for growing a few cannabis plants, without any need for a criminal trial. Now they will be able to take your money right out of your wallet and you’ll be forced to hire a lawyer and prove it was legally obtained.

This kind of “reverse onus” property seizure is probably unconstitutional, and is definitely abused on a regular basis across the continent. Stories of innocent people having their life savings taken away by police have become commonplace in the USA, while in Canada property seizure is also just a cash grab by the government. Policing for profit is a very real problem in Canada, and now the NDP is making it worse.

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What usually happens is that the cost of hiring a lawyer to get your money back is more than the amount seized, so people just give up and police departments get to keep most of the cash. The government doesn’t need to go to court to seize your property, but you need to go to court to try and get it back.

USA Today has America’s property seizure program “highway robbery” and CBC News describes it as “a vast, coordinated scheme to grab as much of the public’s cash as they can.” Now, these same tactics are being expanded in BC, courtesy of Horgan’s NDP.

One would think a government with the former head of the BC Civil Liberties Association as Attorney General would do a better job of protecting civil rights. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true.

2. Bad cannabis laws

When Canada legalized cannabis, the BC NDP passed harsh new laws to continue the stigmatization and criminalization of cannabis users.

Instead of embracing the spirit of legalization, the NDP chose to stick with the drug war mentality. They created bizarre new bans with high penalties, like three months in jail for growing your legal cannabis plant in a spot where it can be seen from the street.

The NDP also banned cannabis lounges, banned outdoor cannabis events, banned possession of “illicit cannabis,” and put in a variety of harsh penalties which are very extreme when compared to regulations and penalties around alcohol.

Like most people, a majority of NDP MLA’s have used cannabis themselves, and I know many remain current users. What hypocrisy for them to continue criminalizing and punishing people while they’re smoking “illicit cannabis” at home themselves.

420 Vancouver

Crowds gather at Sunset Beach in downtown Vancouver for the 2017 4/20 event. (Daily Hive)

3. More bans, more punishments

John Horgan’s NDP has completely bought into the outdated idea that the way to end overdose deaths is to ban more things and give out longer jail sentences.

Last year, the NDP banned the ownership of pill presses and gel cap machines without a license. They claimed that criminalizing gel caps would help stop fentanyl overdose deaths. Of course, this is a ridiculous and wrongheaded idea. Does anyone really think that in a world without pill presses there would be even a single less overdose?

The NDP are talking about charging people with murder if someone overdoses from a drug they provided. Most “drug dealers” are actually purchasing for their friends, or selling enough to afford their own supply. They often don’t even know what’s in the product they’re selling. Charging dealers with murder won’t save one life.

What would save lives is a safe, clean supply of drugs. Like every health expert is calling for!

ontario cannabis

Donn Gabriel Baleva / Unsplash

4. Refusing to decriminalize

Every major health official in BC is urging decriminalization. They are all agreed that decriminalization is a key part of any effort to stop the overdose crisis.

But the NDP ignores them all, refuses to stop arrests and keeps the drug war grinding on.

BC’s previous Chief Medical Health Officer Perry Kendall urged the province to decriminalize, and current health officer Bonnie Henry is doing the same. Vancouver Coastal Health is also pushing for decriminalization, as is the Chief Coroner, BC Centre on Substance Use, the BC Centre for Disease Control, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

Drug user groups, grieving parents and the city of Vancouver are all also calling for BC to decriminalize. It’s hard to find a health or drug policy expert in our province who hasn’t been demanding decrim for years!

Instead of endorsing the policy in any way, speaking out or taking any action at all, Health Minister Adrian Dix totally avoids talking about the subject.

Imagine a province facing the worst health crisis ever in its history, and the Minister of Health refuses to endorse the policy promoted by every single health official in the province! This is a shocking display of political cowardice and negligence by Adrian Dix.

Meanwhile, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy just said there is “no appetite” for ending arrests. How many people have to die before the NDP gets hungry for decriminalization?

There’s a variety of legal ways that BC could stop possession arrests and effectively decriminalize at the provincial level. Policing and health care are both the jurisdiction of the province, there are several methods BC could use to decriminalize without waiting for the feds to act. John Horgan used every legal tactic possible to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline, why won’t he fight in the same way for the victims of prohibition and their grieving families?

Instead of exploring options and moving forward, the BC NDP won’t even fully endorse the concept of decriminalization. Unfortunately, they are still stuck in the failed, outdated mindset of more police, more punishment and more prohibition.

Until the NDP can boldly embrace real decriminalization and real destigmatization, people will continue to die, and the war on drug users will continue.

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