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Drug Laws Need Massive Overhaul: Committee



Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: Peter O'Neil and David Reevely, Vancouver Sun 
Published: Monday, December 09, 2002
Copyright: 2002 The Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/ 


A special parliamentary committee on drugs is to recommend sweeping changes to the way Canada regulates controlled substances.

The recommendations from the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by Liberal MP Paddy Torsney, include pilot safe injection sites in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal; a national drug commissioner; separate prisons for drug addicts, featuring needle exchanges and methadone treatment; and a liberalized law on marijuana possession.

That last recommendation is expected to be delayed until later in the week, for fear that that issue would overwhelm the dozens of other ideas in the report. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has been waiting for the committee's advice before deciding whether to change Canada's policy on marijuana.

In Vancouver, the safe-injection-site news is expected to make the biggest splash. Controversy over proposals for such sites has been rampant: Mayor Larry Campbell was elected, in part, on a promise to try to get such a site operating by Jan. 1, and Health Canada has issued draft guidelines for how it might be run. Canadian Alliance MPs Randy White and James Moore, both from the Lower Mainland, have blasted the plan for what they call "shooting galleries," arguing that it's a bad idea to make it easier and safer for addicts to take drugs.

White, the vice-chair of the parliamentary committee, has complained that just as Cauchon has been waiting for the committee's recommendation on marijuana, Health Minister Anne McLellan shouldn't have released any guidelines on injection sites. 

The committee's report is based on $500,000 of research and 18 months of hearings, but White is expected to release a minority report of his own, dissenting from some of the committee's conclusions.

The report will be tabled in the House of Commons, and then committee members are to hold separate news conferences in Ottawa and Vancouver.

The Vancouver gathering could be raucous: White (Langley-Abbotsford) is to be there, accompanied by Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre) and New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies (Vancouver East).

While the mayor maintains that a properly run injection site would be legal under current law, the health ministry's draft guidelines argue that it would be illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The draft guidelines are to be finalized after a meeting in Ottawa at the end of this week, which Campbell is scheduled to attend. They require that any official injection site be opened only as part of a scientific experiment. Campbell has said he knows of groups ready with appropriate proposals, set to go as soon as Health Canada formalizes its rules.

The MPs are expected to stress that the proposed drug commissioner wouldn't focus on criminal justice matters and wouldn't be modelled after the U.S. "drug czar," appointed by the president to control American drug policy and its enforcement.

The commissioner, who would report to Parliament, would be responsible for auditing and investigating the implementation of the liberalized drug policies outlined in the MPs' report.

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