New view in war on drugs
By Darrell Bellaart, The Daily News
It's refreshing to hear a police officer speaking publicly against Canada's drug laws.
The police officer is David Bratzer. A beat cop in downtown Victoria, every day he sees the effects of the so-called war on drugs: A skyrocketing crime problem propped up by an army of down-and-out addicts who smoke, snort and inject every spare dollar they can get.
When he's not working as a police officer, Bratzer speaks publicly for a group calling itself Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
It was formed in 2002 by five police officers who, in a career of crime-fighting were frustrated with what they considered a failed international policy to tell young people to just say no to drugs.
Hearing Bratzer speak to a group of university students in Nanaimo this week, I realized immediately the contrast with the stereotypical drug officer telling high school kids that drugs kill.
I remember learning in Grade 7 that marijuana is addictive, then thinking later in life the message was all part of a big lie. Lying to kids only undermines any hope of talking rationally to them about drugs later in life, when they get curious and start experimenting.
Police can't be blamed. Most believe what they have been told about drugs and support the message that the way to stop drugs is to eradicate them.
But Bratzer takes a more realistic approach. He sees legalized, regulated drug use as the solution.
"If you look at regulated alcohol in B.C., there have been benefits. For example, we don't have two downtown distributors shooting each other as a result of our policy."
Joanne Simister, chairwoman of the VIU criminology department, invited Bratzer to speak.
"It's critical thinking, the aspect of that alternate view, and it's coming from a source that is a bit unexpected," Simister said
When he joined the force, Bratzer wholeheartedly supported laws against drug possession but his position gradually shifted after hearing LEAP's message.
He learned that the paradox of prohibition is the more a substance is driven underground, the more it creates a black market that feeds crime.
Making alcohol illegal made Al Capone rich and leaded to all-out gang warfare in the 1930s. Gangsters injured and killed plenty of deadbeat gamblers before the state realized it could get tax dollars and better manage people's addictions by controlling games of chance. That making drugs illegal creates problems shouldn't be a surprise.
Simister had heard about LEAP, and she was glad when she recently learned there is a member on Vancouver Island willing to come to Nanaimo to give students the other side of the debate.
"If what we are doing worked, I think people would be fine with it. But at some point I think we have to ask ourselves are we having the effect we want? If you look at the goals of the war on drugs, are we reaching those goals? No we're not. Our drug policies are becoming drug problems."