Everyone knows by now that Toronto mayor Rob Ford has recently admitted to smoking crack-cocaine. However, this revelation has yet to prompt any legal action against Mayor Ford, who is a major proponent for being “tough on crime” and dealing out harsh penalties for illicit drug users.
Prohibition of certain drugs is an arbitrary decision. Why do we accept certain recreational drugs such as alcohol, but outlaw others like marijuana or crack-cocaine?
The prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century was a complete failure, as it merely forced drinking underground and provided criminal organizations a highly profitable opportunity to provide booze on the black market. Yet the failures of prohibition appear to have been lost on the government officials today who continue to support criminalizing despite the social harm that it produces.
It doesn’t appear as if that damage to an individual’s health or its costs to society are what drive the decision of which drugs to outlaw and which to allow. It is widely accepted in the medical community that the damage done to the individual — and to society — is higher with alcohol than with marijuana.
In fact, physical dependence on alcohol ranks higher than marijuana, LSD, ecstasy or cocaine. And yet it is obtained with relatively ease and is encouraged through advertising on a daily basis, with little mention of the high risk of addiction or the damages associated with over-consumption.
Recreational drug use is not confined to any segment of the population. The majority of folks use mind-altering substances in one way or another, be it a morning coffee, a few beers, a joint, a bag of mushrooms, a line of cocaine or a pill of ecstasy. And while the intensity and damage of these different substances varies from minimal to extreme, the possibility of abuse, addiction and damage to one’s health exists with all of them.
The reasons for using recreational drugs vary from person to person, whether they be emotional or physical pain-relief, pressures to conform with one’s peers, simple curious experimentation or the stress of everyday life — running a large city, for example — which leads them to seek an escape from reality and an opportunity to unwind.
When certain segments of society make the personal decision to use recreational drugs, they are imprisoned. Our jails are full of recreational drug users, and last I checked Mayor Ford was still not one of them.
Despite Ford’s own stance on crime — which apparently doesn’t apply when he is the criminal — he has openly admitted to purchasing, possessing and using a banned substance as well as drinking and driving.
These actions are political hypocrisy at their worst. The majority of people locked up for drug possession continue to be disadvantaged poor individuals who come from minority ethnic groups, while big city mayors who openly admit to their crimes face seemingly no penalties.
The inconsistency in enforcing haphazard criminalization equally across socio-economic classes highlights how the war on drug users continues to target those who are not part of the power-wielding upper classes of our society.
Harm reduction and rehabilitation efforts would have more of an impact than our current punitive approach for drug possession.
If governments want us to believe they are truly interested in reducing drug use, they need to look at addressing the health-related issue of addiction and the many factors that cause an individual to turn to drugs in the first place.
Until then, it would be nice to see the long arm of the law finally reach within its own bowels and arrest Rob Ford.
Graphic: Cody Schumacher/Graphics Editor