Criminalizing drugs ignores reasons for use: lawyer

An Ottawa-based lawyer who teaches drug policy and criminology at the University of Ottawa says criminalizing drug use ignores the root causes of why people use drugs and fuels the black market.

Eugene Oscapella says criminalization was no solution

Oscapella says criminalization ignores the reasons why people use drugs, ignoring the bigger picture and acts more as a bandaid solution. (Associated Press)

The criminalization of drug use distracts from the bigger picture, says Eugene Oscapella. 

Oscapella is an Ottawa-based lawyer and professor of criminology and drug policy at the University of Ottawa. He says criminalizing drug use ignores more important aspects such as the reasons why people use drugs.

"People use drugs for a reason and if we just pretend that criminal law is the solution, we never get around to asking, 'well, why did that kid start using drugs?'" Oscapella said.

He added people might use drugs because of peer pressure, their own insecurities, abuse, trauma or mental health among other things. 

"We actually do a great disservice to these people by prohibiting these drugs." 

Oscapella was part of The Canadian Bar Association's Mid-Winter Meeting conference in Saskatoon last week. 

As part of a presentation titled Clearing the Smoke: An Update on Marijuana Legalization, Oscapella used his time to remind those in attendance why a regulatory model of cannabis use in Canada is being studied. Though Oscapella was unable to attend the conference in person, he was able to give an audio presentation.

"When you're using drugs under a system of criminal prohibition, you don't have honest education about how to use the drugs, you don't know how to use them as safely as possible," he said. 

Another safety concern is the lack of quality control in black market drugs. 

"It's very easy just to go ahead and say, 'oh jeez, there's going to be more kids using drugs' and I don't think that's necessarily going to be the case," Oscapella said.

In addition to safer drug use, legalization and regulation would put a dent in the black market's revenue stream.

"Criminal prohibition creates a tremendously lucrative black market for criminal organizations in Canada and around the world."

With files from Joelle Seal