Doctors decry crackdown on drugs
NationalPost.com – posted/CanadianPolitics/BlackwellonHealth
Feb 7, 2011. Tom Blackwell
It is not often that the medical world becomes embroiled in debates over criminal justice, but a group of doctors, HIV researchers and other public-health officials has just released a letter lambasting the Harper government’s Bill S-10, which would overhaul illicit-drug laws. The principle target of the 564 signatories – which includes doctors, nurses, social workers and law professors – is a provision that would impose minimum prison sentences of at least six months for a variety of drug offences, including operating small-scale marijuana grow operations.
The letter from the Vancouver-based Urban Health Research Insitute (UHRI) argues that minimum sentences will serve only to fill up prison cells at great expense, while doing little to protect the public. It says evidence suggests most small-scale drug offenders are not violent. Meanwhile, the swelling ranks of inmates will only exacerbate the problem of infectious disease in correctional facilities, where rates of Hepatitis and HIV are already soaring, posing a direct public-health threat once those inmates are released.
The UHRI is part of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, which is best known for the controversial safe-injection site for heroin users it developed in Vancouver, and its general focus on harm reduction – reducing the health impacts of illicit drug use rather than emphasizing prosecution of users. The insitute argues that the government should focus on scientifically backed methods for tackling substance-abuse problems, such as harm reduction programs. Said the letter:
We share the government’s commitment to addressing the challenges of substance abuse but do not support the implementation of non-evidence-based policies, such as Bill S-10, which place an enormous burden on taxpayers and will cause considerable health-related harms, while failing to improve community health and safety.
According to the Justice Department’s summary of Bill S-10, it would require mandatory sentences for trafficking, production, importing and exporting and possession for the purpose of trafficking or exporting, when there is an aggravating factor. Those factors range from organized crime links and violence to being close to a school or involving a youth in the offence. Courts could exempt some offenders if they took addiction-treatment programs.
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