Senator: Cocaine and heroin should be sold in liquor stores
By chealth – Monday, 21 October, 2002
VANCOUVER (CP) — A B.C. senator says cocaine and heroin should be sold in liquor stores because the drugs are already available through illegal means that result in huge profits for dealers.
Senator Edward Lawson said the controlled distribution of the drugs that have cost hundreds of lives through overdoses in recent years in the Vancouver area alone would also ensure the drugs are not tainted.
“Maybe we should tie (the drugs) together with the liquor stores, have it government controlled and have them quality controlled,” said Lawson, who is part of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs.
The committee is attending public hearings across the country to get input on the issue of illicit drugs.
Lawson was joined by B.C. colleague Senator Pat Carney in advocating a formal debate on the legalization of marijuana. Alliance MP Keith Martin introduced a private members’ bill on the issue Wednesday.
Lawson said Switzerland dispenses drugs such as heroin through clinics and that Canada already has some programs that treat cocaine addicts, for example, by giving them limited amounts of the drug.
“We do it here on a controlled basis but we’re kind of tippy-toeing in that, almost as if we’re afraid we might have a successful result,” Lawson said in an interview.
He said it’s time for Canada to seriously consider implementing new policies to deal with the drug problem that has taken a toll on people, including the recent deaths of young Vancouver-area residents who took the rave drug ecstasy.
“My God, this cries out for desperate measures and a different look at the way we do things,” Lawson said.
Dr. Mark Tyndall, who treats AIDS/HIV patients at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, told the committee 16 of the 18 beds originally intended for people with the disease are now occupied by addicts who contracted it through intravenous drug use.
Tyndall said Lawson’s idea of dispensing cocaine and heroin in liquor stores would make for an interesting experiment.
“I don’t think (liquor stores) would be flooded by people lining up. You and I wouldn’t be lining up with our kids to buy heroin and cocaine at a liquor store.”
He said such a plan, combined with a comprehensive treatment program, would also provide opportunities for hard-core users to get out of the drug spiral.
On the issue of decriminalizing marijuana, Lawson said police use millions of dollars in resources in busting numerous grow-ops in British Columbia but courts are too lenient in dealing with the criminals.
Legalizing and taxing the billion-dollar industry would mean the money generated could be used for education and health programs, he said.
Lawson, who was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, also said there’s merit to Martin’s private members’ bill and that most people he’s talked to around the country favour decriminalizing pot.
Conservative Senator Carney said the issue of legalizing marijuana should be debated separately from policies on other illicit drugs that are more harmful.
“One of our jobs as a committee is to separate those two issues,” she said.
“You can’t really lump in the human tragedy and the cost and the waste of life in (Vancouver’s) Downtown Eastside … with someone who wants to smoke pot and drink wine in the privacy of his home.”
The Senate committee is reviewing Canada’s anti-drug laws on marijuana and is scheduled to present its report on cannabis to the senate in August 2002.
Vancouver mayor Philip Owen told the senators that Canada must implement a national policy to deal with the illegal drug trade, help addicts and prevent associated property crime.
“As the world becomes increasingly smaller, the regional, national and international implications of a comprehensive system of care to address substance misuse and crime is of key importance,” Owen said.
Vancouver is developing an extensive drug policy that advocates prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.