I am a criminologist who came to Guyana for 10 days last month to visit friends in the Corentyne area. I am also a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) which is an international group of current and former peace officers who are dedicated to drawing attention to the devastating consequences of drug prohibition. I made several observations during my trip which do not bode well for Guyana’s efforts to control the global drug trade.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Guyanese people, there were two events which we found quite disturbing. Both involved being stopped on the Rupert Craig Highway by heavily armed men. Had it not been for our driver who quickly identified them as military personnel or, on the second occasion, as police officers, we had no way of knowing that the intervention was legally sanctioned.
Remarkably, as soon as my wife and I were identified as “Caucasians” at these roadblocks, we were waved through with no bother. Therefore, if one wants to transport drugs through Guyana, it seems that criminal organizations need only to include Caucasians as passengers in vehicles containing contraband. However, that is not my main point.
The roadblocks and other deterrence-based strategies which are currently intended to deter drug traffickers will not prevent drugs from entering and leaving Guyana, nor will they have an impact on the number of domestic drug users.
The Canadian experience with drug control strategies, modelled after the United States, has focused almost exclusively on deterring the supply side of drugs for nearly 100 years. By official accounts, including two Senate reports by our federal government, the laws are an unmitigated failure and waste of taxpayers’ money.
Marijuana has become more plentiful, potent and cheaper since its criminalization in 1919. Our government has surrendered its control of the cannabis trade to armed thugs who engage in public turf wars at considerable risk to by-standers. Law enforcement efforts to control drugs have only short-term results and set the conditions for further violence as gangs continually fight over market share.
According to recent polls, the majority of residents in my province (British Columbia) are in support of legalizing marijuana to be sold through licensed, private vendors, much like the state of Washington which borders our province. The criminalization of marijuana is rapidly losing public support.
As an alternative to a so-called “war on drugs”, we might learn from one of Canada’s most successful drug strategies against the deadliest substance of them all: tobacco.
Fewer Canadian youth are smoking than ever before. Tobacco is tightly regulated in Canada. It cannot be sold to minors, advertised in print or electronic media, and retailers must hide tobacco products behind opaque screens. Consistent public education messages in our schools warn students of the hazards of tobacco but leave the decision about smoking to them without any risk of arrest for their choices.
Our drug policies to deter the use of tobacco products are showing signs of success. These lessons involving strict marketing controls and education for youth can be employed to control other psychoactive substances. The outcome will be a reduction in the demand for drugs and criminal organizations will lose the profit incentive which fuels their violence.
Vancouver Island University