Not the groovy '60s: Today's cannabis is harder and meaner

By MARGARET WENTE, 6/26/07, Page A17, The Globe and Mail
For Don Smyth, it was the kind of encounter he has had too often. A Filipino family had invited him to their little townhouse in Toronto to see whether he could help rescue their 18-year-old son, who was about to be expelled from school for dru,g trafficking. Mr. Smyth, a therapist, specializes in drug prevention and addiction among young adults.

When the kid was roused from bed, Mr. Smyth saw he was severely addicted. "He showed all the physical signs - agitation, restlessness, aggression - that I used to see in people withdrawing from cocaine." But the drug wasn't cocaine. It was marijuana.

Last week, people reacted with outrage over the story of Kieran King, the15-year-old Saskatchewan student whose school came down on him like a sledgehammer because he dared to argue that marijuana is relatively benign. The school was wrong in its reaction but right on its facts. The vast majority of the marijuana inhaled today is not the mellow weed you and I remember from our youth. It is many times more powerful. In fact, the United Nations now classifies Canadian-grown marijuana as a hard drug whose destructive power puts it in the same league as cocaine.

Europe's approach to drugs is more enlightened... it's tougher

(A timeless and timely article) 
Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail, 7/17/08  
In 2006, Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean was hosting Queen Silvia of Sweden during the Swedish royal family's visit to Canada when the topic of illegal drug use came up. The GG told the Queen that Canada is taking an enlightened approach. Instead of punishing users, she said, society needs to be understanding of drug use and assist in reducing harm until the addict is ready to quit.

Alas, the Queen was not impressed. She briskly informed the GG that Sweden takes a hard-line approach, that users are given a choice between treatment and jail, and that Sweden's addiction rates are much lower than Canada's. After that, they changed the subject.

Advocates of harm-reduction measures, such as needle exchanges, methadone programs and Vancouver's supervised-injection site, often point to Europe's more enlightened approach to drugs as proof of how far behind we are in Canada. But parts of Europe are having second thoughts. Socially progressive Sweden had a brief but disastrous fling with prescription heroin back in the 1960s. After that, it embraced the hard-line approach. Today its policy is to make drugs very difficult to get, but treatment very easy - and sometimes compulsory. "The vision is that of a society free from narcotic drugs," says Maria Larsson, the Minister for Public Health.

As a consequence of grassroots support for this policy, drug use in Sweden is a third of the European average. "The lessons of Sweden's drug control history should be learned by others," said Antonio Maria Costa, who heads the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime.