Just weeks before the legalization of cannabis in Canada takes effect, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stunned commentators by signing onto an initiative to renew the international War On Drugs. It's no surprise that America is leading the initiative, which was developed by President Donald Trump’s White House to prosecute drug users, but it is strange to see Trudeau support it while bringing the war on cannabis to an end in Canada.
The declaration, currently titled "Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem," is being widely reported as a renewal of the War on Drugs, according to an article from The Globe and Mail. The statement advocates for international "narcotics control," and puts an emphasis on the role of law enforcement and the importance of criminalization.
In other words, the signees are trying to "arrest their way out of this problem," to borrow the words of Vice President Mike Pence. Back in 2015, then Indiana Governor Pence slammed the War on Drugs and urged lawmakers to pursue other ways to curb substance abuse. "We simply cannot arrest our way out of the problem," Pence said. "We have to recognize that we also have to address the root causes of addiction and focus on treatment."
But now Pence is tacitly onboard with Trump's drug war. And so is Trudeau, even though efforts to curtail drug use by punishing drug offenders didn't work for cannabis (as the Trudeau government has repeatedly pointed out) and probably won't work for other illicit substances either. That's why former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on world leaders to decriminalize all recreational drugs and pursue strategies that stress harm reduction and public safety over punishment.
"Prohibition has had little impact on the supply of or demand for drugs," the late Annan wrote in a 2016 essay. "When law enforcement succeeds in one area, drug production simply moves to another region or country, drug trafficking moves to another route and drug users switch to a different drug. Nor has prohibition significantly reduced use. Studies have consistently failed to establish the existence of a link between the harshness of a country's drug laws and its levels of drug use. The widespread criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs, the over-crowded prisons, mean that the war on drugs is, to a significant degree, a war on drug users - a war on people."
Trudeau seemed to heed Annan's call by moving forward with cannabis legalization, which makes his decision to support Trump's drug war mind-boggling - especially considering the other sponsors. Along with Trump, the new initiative is being supported by Russia and the Philippines, who served as "co-hosts" for the statement. The latter country's involvement is particularly unsettling given that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war has led to over 20,000 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug users.
Meanwhile, America has wasted over $1 trillion dollars on enforcing the War on Drugs, which President Richard Nixon launched for dubious reasons in 1971. And countless lives have been impacted as the war has torn apart families and destroyed communities through mass incarceration.
New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark reportedly believes both Canada and Mexico are being essentially forced to support the initiative because ongoing talks regarding NAFTA aren't going well for either country.
It is unclear how much of an impact kowtowing to Trump will have on trade between the US and Canada, but the initiative clearly presents a failed opportunity for Trudeau to distance the country form the US’s failed drug policies and position Canada as a global leader in drug reform.