Imagine: We started a war in 1972. At the beginning, we were losing only a few to the enemy; across the board the mortality rate on our side was almost zero. The adversaries were both easily recognizable and poorly organized; hippies and people of colour. There were some doubters but really, what could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward to present. The Centre for Disease Control reports the American casualty rate alone of that war at 62,000+ for 2016, more than the total death toll of the Vietnam war, while the foe gets harder and harder to even identify. Let alone defeat. One single enemy can be found with enough lethal weaponry to kill 5,000,000 people. (I speak of a recent fentanyl arrest.)
The drug war. Lost beyond any hope of victory. Using statistics from British Columbia, overdose deaths in that province have passed 1400 for 2017. An 88% rise over 2016. The cost in every way imaginable is overwhelming: personal tragedy, medical and autopsy expense, police involvement. More than 90% of OD’s take place in a residence or similar place. There are no social boundaries.
Who are we fighting in this war? Pharmaceutical companies? Foreign countries? Government policies? Biker gangs? Not even close. This enemy is a phantom, invisible and totally ruthless. It exists as a potential inside every individual; manifesting wherever given the opportunity, moving ever deeper into society while our weapons of police and jails are rendered impotent. Harm reduction policies begin to look like MASH units on a battlefield.
The siren call of the opiates is almost irresistible to those in need. A young military man, fresh off tour leaves his wife and children alone while vacationing at Disney World, only to be located twelve hours later dead from overdose. What earthly power could make a such a man willingly abandon his family on strange ground? That is the face of the enemy.
Even Sun Tzu in his epic Art of War has no parallel for the disaster brought on by this complete defeat. It is not as if those who began the war were not warned. Gerald Le Dain studied the problem when commissioned in 1969, as did Raymond Shafer with his report to president Nixon. They both argued that the recreational use of drugs should be treated as a social issue, and for the legalization of cannabis. They warned against falsely claiming cannabis dangerous and placing of it on the list with lethal drugs for one basic reason: Those who tried it and found it benign might well assume the government was lying about the danger of all drugs. Continuing with that falsehood would cause legitimacy to disappear.
No one listened.