Postions of MLA and MP on drug decriminalization questioned

Defending decriminalization

Re: Recent columns by BC United Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield and Conservative Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray criticizing drug decriminalization and safe supply.

Like "war on drugs" matriarch Nancy Reagan, (Merrifield and Gray) whitewash their appeals for harsher, punitive policies by citing compassionate concern for “children and families”.

Gray and Merrifield frequently tout their business degrees when addressing commercial interests. Why, then, do they rely on emotional, motherly appeals in this matter? I would rather they substantiate their claims with critical thinking, research, and citations to valid sources, as my MBA program requires.

Neither Gray nor Merrifield possess professional experience or credentials in substance treatment settings, social services, healthcare or data analysis. Both have backgrounds profiting from the sale of harmful and addictive substances in the for-profit market. When lobbying for their supply, they say “deregulation” not “decriminalization”.

Gray left her career as an alcohol merchant to pursue politics. In office, she’s lobbied to reduce regulations so wine can flow freely across borders. She advocates for lower excise taxes on alcohol in spite of the fact this puts less funds in public buckets needed to provide medically supervised detox and evidence-based treatment services.

If drug decriminalization, as Merrifield suggests, is ineffective, what compelled her to represent shareholder interests as a board director with the Valens marijuana company (prior to stepping down from the board in 2020 after her election)? Why should pot dealers freely sell drugs online and market them as “medical products”, but prescriptions monitored by physicians and nurses should be outlawed?

Did she ensure they include warning labels regarding adverse medication interactions, psychosis, and other mental health risks associated with youth cannabis use?

Regardless, legalization has significantly improved the safety of alcohol and marijuana in today's market. Most teens live to tell the tale of the first time they got drunk or stoned. If they over consume or have a bad trip, they can call 911 and receive medical interventions like stomach pumping or sedation from qualified hospital staff.

Due to criminalization, thousands of young people and men employed in trades in their prime of life are dead because they took a fatal pill, “bump” or puff laced with a tiny dose of black-market fentanyl.

Coroner data across Canada states the lives lost to toxic drugs came from many walks of life and mainly died alone in private residences. No data proves more “treatment” programs or prisons would’ve saved the lives of those casually experimenting for the first time, or taking counterfeit drugs sold for cheaper on the street. This includes commercial opioids like Oxycodone, Percocet, dilaudid, as well as drugs taken to reduce anxiety and/or increase productivity, like Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Valium) and ADHD meds (Vyvanse, Ritalin, Adderall).

Why are teens and working-class people buying illegal versions of legal drugs in the first place? What longitudinal data proves these statistics relate at all to political interventions?

We won’t find the answers in fields like political science, philosophy or theology. To influence consumer behaviour in markets (black and white), we must turn to economics and corporate finance. Basic economic principles such as the price elasticity of supply and demand prove flooding markets with more attractive substitutes is an effective strategy to lower prices and eradicate competitors.

Finding substitutes in supplies seized from gangs is not the crisis Gray suggests. This is a positive indication legal substitutes are gradually finding their way into black-market supply chains. The real crisis? The rest of the stash likely contained toxic drugs that would've killed people if distributed. Recent data confirms illegal fentanyl was the primary cause of death in most cases, with only 3% of toxicology reports containing traces of prescribed hydromorphone.

So how can we eliminate bad actors from the market, and help public agencies gain a competitive advantage? First, we need our leaders to stop voting against a national pharmacare strategy, and blocking Canada from returning to our home-grown roots and nationalizing drug production.That could increase the supply of legal medications, reduce consumer prices, and eliminate criminal interests. We could then reinvest our nationally owned profits in evidence-based treatment programs.

So why are Gray and Merrifield opposed to this approach?

Both Gray’s party and Merrifield’s party, when they were last in power, cut consumer protection watchdogs and reduced regulations to fast track improperly tested opioids to market, like OxyContin. They also shifted funding from evidence-based health care programs towards policing and unregulated “recovery homes” and outsourcing to “budget friendly” private programs. The results of that cost-benefit analysis? Dramatic global spikes in crime, HIV, and child abuse.

These policies flopped so hard, their own party members, like former B.C. Liberal health minister George Abbott and (former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen) Harper’s criminal justice advisor Benjamin Perrin later published studies to denounce them. Gray claims her new leader (Pierre Poilievre) will be tough on “Big Pharma.” Yet, when we review his current relationships with Big Pharma lobbyists, we must ask if the call is coming from inside their house.

You want to hear heartfelt stories from mothers who've lost children to this wicked crisis? Listen to Moms Stop the Harm.

Those mighty moms are fighting for policy changes with a greater motive than profit or power. “Grief, that is, love persevering.”

Amanda Poon is an MBA candidate with experience in a variety of professional and volunteer roles supporting people experiencing homelessness and/or mental health and substance use challenges. She ran for the B.C. Green Party in Kelowna-Mission against Renee Merrifield in the 2020 B.C. provincial election.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views or positions of the author’s employer.

(Editors note: This column has been corrected to reflect that since 2007, corporations have not been allowed to donate to political parties federally in Canada. A similar move was made by the Province of B.C. in 2017.)

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