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Criminology Department Chair at Nanaimo's VIU has a few words of advice for Nelson City Council

Editor, The Nelson Daily

On May 7, a debate in the chambers of Nelson City Council on a motion about legalizing cannabis was profoundly similar to others currently taking place across Canada and the world (Council Debates Legalization of Pot, June 12, 2012).

As an active participant in this debate, I have some suggestions which may help us work toward common ground.

First, let’s recognize that we share a desire to live in healthy communities.

As such, drug policies should result in low or non-existent levels of interpersonal violence and predatory property crime. There will be few or no black markets for contraband drugs.

Secondly, we won’t doubt each other’s motives for the different ideas in which we believe. Our expressed views result from our education, life experiences, or by hearing from those whom  we consider to be experts in controlling drugs.

Thirdly, to progress beyond these seemingly unshakeable debates, and the views held by each side, we can agree that there is an authority for helping us decide the truthfulness of our ideas.

That authority is science.

Science is a means of knowing the world which is open, provisional, and unbiased. As such, we can agree right away that anecdotes do not qualify as evidence, no matter how numerous or apparently compelling.

We also acknowledge that single-finding research studies on a topic are rarely definitive. Wherever possible, we agree that summaries of research findings from all available studies will best inform drug policies (sometimes called “meta-analyses”).

The funding behind the science which we endorse will be evident at the source. Where consensus on policy issues cannot be reached, the principle of “least harm” to communities will prevail.

Finally, and at an individual level, participants in drug policy dialogues should be prepared to answer the question, “What evidence will I accept to revise my beliefs on drugs and their control?”

If we agree that scientific investigation into the harms and control of drugs is the best means to resolve our opposing positions, then we lay the foundation for reaching consensus on the laws and social policies which really will support healthy communities in Canada.

Dr. John Anderson

Chair of the Criminology Department at Vancouver Island University in Nanamio, Vice-President for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Canada), and a Coalition Member of Stop the Violence BC.