VANCOUVER (CP) - Governments in Canada should steer completely clear from adopting or emulating any current drug policies in the United States, an outspoken New York state prosecutor said Tuesday.
"My advice to Canada is stay as completely far away from U.S. drug law policy as possible," said David Soares, the district attorney for Albany County in the state of New York. "You (Canada) are headed in the right direction." In a blunt and scathing condemnation of his state and country's ineffective drug war, Soares said lawmakers, judges and prosecutors in the U.S. know their system is ineffective.
But they support it anyway because it provides law enforcement officials with lucrative jobs.
The vast majority of people incarcerated as a result of drug laws in the U.S. are young African-American and Hispanic males, he said after a speech at the 17th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-Related Harm.
Harm reduction has been a movement developed over the past two decades as a complement to the harsher but ineffective abstinence-only policy. It essentially recognizes that drug use won't be eliminated and tries to find methods to reduce negative consequences.
Soares was elected in his state on a ticket to fight what he termed the "draconian" drug laws that call for long prison sentences for drug crimes that in Canada would be considered minor.
Lawmakers in the U.S. lack the willpower to reform drug laws despite their ineffectiveness at curbing drug use and crime because "reform is scary."
"We understand enforcement, that we do well. Harm reduction forces a person to think and it forces you to question your law enforcement philosophical approach."
He suggested that the heavy-handed drug fight in the U.S. is perpetuated by authorities' need to "give people a wonderful living" by hiring more police, more judges and more prosecutors.
He said, not sarcastically, that the U.S.'s well-known penchant for building more and more prisons was an accepted "economic development strategy."
Legislators who believe in harm reduction will have their futures in politics threatened by taking any kind of progressive stance on harm reduction, he said.
He noted that often in the United States, authorities speak out only after they have retired.
Soares defeated the Republican candidate in Albany County in November 2004, completing what some observers in the state said was one of the most stunning political upset in New York political history.
In Canada, a harm-reduction experiment known as the North American Opiate Medication Initiative - NAOMI - is underway in Montreal and Vancouver.
The controlled clinical trial that began in February 2005 distributes heroin to addicts who can't or won't use methadone.
There are an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 heroin addicts in Canada.
Investigator David Marsh refused to speculate on whether the current Conservative government would maintain the project's funding.
"At this point we don't need any additional funding to conduct research or get regulatory approval.," Marsh told reporters after speaking at a session on NAOMI. "There is no imperative to convince people of anything."
"But we have to finish the study and analyze data to inform policy-makers' decisions."
The NAOMI project hopes to help addicts stabilize their addiction so they can get other aspects of their lives back on track.
Similar studies have been done in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. They have resulted in a drop in drug use and crime, and improved physical and mental health, and employment prospects, say proponents.