BC-CfE report finds drug prohibition and law enforcement increase violence and gun crime; U.S. police chiefs receive insight on Insite and "Seek and Treat"; HAARTbeats: Dramatic improvement in survival rates of HIV-positive children; BC-CfE researchers win AccolAIDS awards
A dramatic report released by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) in March, 2010 found that drug prohibition and stricter law enforcement have failed to curb the illicit drug trade and, in fact, have increased the rate of drug-related violence.
The researchers at the Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), a program of the BC-CfE, reached this conclusion after conducting a scientific review of all available English-language scientific literature to evaluate the association between drug prohibition and violence. Out of the 15 international studies identified, 13 studies (87 per cent) found that drug law enforcement was associated with increasing levels of drug market violence.
“Widespread drug-related violence in places like Mexico and the U.S., as well as the gun violence we are increasingly seeing on Canadian streets, appear to be directly attributable to drug prohibition,” said Dr. Evan Wood, co-author of the report. “Prohibition drives up the value of banned substances astronomically, creating lucrative markets exploited by local criminals and worldwide networks of organized crime. The evidence suggests that any disruption of these markets through drug law enforcement seems to have the perverse effect of creating financial opportunities for organized crime groups, and gun violence often ensues.”
Dr. Wood further explains that the spate of gun violence that rocked Vancouver last year appears to be a result of power vacuums created by the removal of key players from the illicit drug market by law enforcement. B.C. recorded 140 homicides in 2008 – the most in any calendar year. According to the RCMP, 30 per cent of these deaths were “gang-related.”
Despite mounting evidence that the “war on drugs” strategy has failed, Canada’s Conservative government continues to emphasize law enforcement as a way to deal with drug addiction. The report’s findings are significant and timely in the context of Bill C-15, which is currently before Parliament and would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions. Dr. Thomas Kerr, co-author of the report, suggests that the evidence clearly demonstrates that such interventions will prove ineffective. Instead, they are unlikely to reduce crime, may actually increase violence in our communities and will place an enormous burden on the taxpayer through escalating costs of incarceration.
“The willingness of our current federal government to push blindly forward with a war on drugs approach without considering the likely community impacts and the impact on the taxpayer is very alarming,” Dr. Wood told The Vancouver Sun.
The report’s findings have been endorsed across the political spectrum, including high-profile conservative voices such as Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, former Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. The report was externally peer-reviewed by economists including Professor Stephen Easton, Senior Fellow at the Fraser Institute, and Harvard University’s Jeffrey Miron.
“I think this would certainly contribute to the debate in no uncertain terms,” Professor Easton told the National Post about the report’s findings. “It’s not a question of whether you will have illegal drugs, it’s a question of who will make money off it.”
The report reveals that Canada’s “war on drugs” has failed. Prohibition has created a massive global market for illicit drugs, which is worth US$320 billion globally and billions in B.C. alone. The authors of the report recommend that the federal government consider alternative measures to reduce the supply of drugs and drug-related bloodshed. “Alternative strategies could mean considering regulatory models for illicit drugs, to minimize their availability to youth while starving criminal gangs of the massive profits they get from drugs,” said Dan Werb, one of the co-authors of the report.
The full 26-page report, Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug- Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review, is available online at http://uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca/images/Documents/ violence-eng.pdf.