Is Canada Joining Trump’s ‘War on Drugs 2.0’? They Signed On For It
On the eve of cannabis legalization in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signs onto a ‘war on drugs’ policy document aimed at tackling the opioid epidemic. Sixty-three nations have refused this Trump-solution.
The archaic ‘War on Drugs’ is something that President Obama repeatedly sought to end by taking a modern health-centric approach to dealing with the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, the cause has been taken up full swing by the Trump Administration.
In fact, what Donald Trump is proposing, the ‘Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem’ is a bit of a nod to nostalgia as the same brand of action employed by the World League Against Alcoholism. The WLAA was founded in 1919, and attempted to rope all nations (especially Canada) into the prohibition of alcohol.
Needless to say, it was hardly successful, but it did threaten the sovereignty of Canada and caused skirmishes between Canada and the U.S., the sinking of a ship and the deaths of Canadian citizens. But now, is Canada signing onto this outdated ‘war’?
The New ‘War on Drugs’
The Trump government has made one thing clear – they have no motivation to stick to many of the progressive actions of the previous administration, including the end of the ‘war on drugs’. In fact, President Trump has taken a few steps backwards, and the ‘Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem’ is just the newest example.
One big problem with this policy is that it assumes universality of the opioid epidemic. In other words, it assumes that all countries bear the weight of this addiction equally, that its roots are the same, and that a single solution (Trump’s way) will work for all countries. Drug policy advocates know this to be a misconception. And the document that Trump is proposing is, by the looks of it, going to present more problems than it solves.
The document looks at stopping “the supply of illicit drugs by stopping their production, whether through cultivation or manufacture, and flow across borders”. In doing so, the document looks at treatment options, drug education, and countries working together in similar policies in the health sector, law enforcement, and judicial regulation.
Of the 130 countries that signed the document, only one worked on the language and content of the document: the United States. No other nation was allowed to negotiate or alter the language and content. Unfortunately, Canada was one of the countries that decided to sign on
Major Canadian allies, like Germany and New Zealand, refused to sign the document. In total, 63 nations refused to sign. However, the declaration is ‘non-binding’, so the efficacy of it is unclear.
At an event that only countries who signed the document could attend, Trump expressed his reasons for the declaration. He believes that the document, and the international community’s investment in it, is a significant move for “public health and national security” as they attempt to “fight drug addiction and stop all forms of trafficking and smuggling that provide the financial lifeblood for vicious transnational cartels.” Well, while that may be true that it’s significant for public health, it isn’t quite in the way Trump is proposing.
The Significance of the Canadian Signature
The move comes as a disappointment to drug advocates who believe legalization of cannabis was finally a step in the right direction. While hope for complete decriminalization of all drugs was not something that looked on the horizon under the Trudeau government, this step backwards in drug regulation is still quite the surprise.
It’s possible that Canada made the decision to sign the declaration because of NAFTA talks. Negotiations around the North America Free Trade Agreement have been notoriously difficult since Trump entered the White House. The decision for Canada and Mexico to sign may have been a ‘peace offering’ to the U.S. in order to finally clear up NAFTA discussions and gain some ground in their own goals for trilateral trade.
This isn’t a great reason, though the agreements have finally been reached to some satisfaction of each of the three countries. A specialist in public health in Alberta, Hakique Virani, told Vice News: “some speculate that Canada, like Mexico, has been coerced to sign this declaration in exchange for a more favorable outcome on NAFTA negotiations.” Looks like Canadian sovereignty is once again being impinged upon by American anti-drug prohibitionists.
Global Reaction After Canada’s Decision
Other world leaders and those working on the ground with drug addiction have argued that the declaration will create the opposite effect that Trump is intending. The Executive Direct of the BC Centre for Disease Control, Mark Tyndall, tweeted following Canada’s decision: “We should be extremely disappointed, frustrated and angry that prohibition policies that literally kill 1000’s [sic] of Canadians each year – and actually promotes drug use – is supported by our leaders.”
In a similar vein, a frontline worker in Toronto, Zoe Dodd tweeted: “Weeks before cannabis legalization Trudeau signs on to this agreement with Trump. This racist classist war that incarcerates millions and destroys millions of lives! @JustinTrudea signing death sentences and joining up with tyranny.”
Virani went on to explain the effects of this declaration and the increased ‘war on drugs’: “When you double down on investigation, interdiction and enforcement, you see more toxic, synthetic drugs sold for higher prices. The big fish in the drug trade get richer and remain untouchable. It’s the low and mid-level dealers from socially disadvantaged groups who go to jail. Meanwhile people who use substances suffer more health and social complications. Or they die.”
In other words, lower-income classes and marginalized races will be effected the most. Meanwhile, as in the prohibition era in the U.S., where rich groups could easily pay fines for drinking alcohol, those who can’t afford those fees will end up in prison.
This is disconcerting. But, the declaration is non-binding and now that trilateral trade is decided, who knows how much Canada will adhere to the ‘war on drugs’. This is one time we hope that a politician’s promise is empty.