Drug users, like most normal people, would prefer not to go to prison. Cracking down on drugs or locking up petty offenders is expensive, and won't solve the problem.
Drug users need help, not jail time, but Laws that would punish them drive them away from the help that they need. If they ask for help, they have to admit they use drugs, which opens them up to the possibility of prosecution.
In order to provide drug users the help they need, a good first step would be to quit threatening to lock them up. That strategy keeps them both hidden and addicted.
Decriminalizing the drugs, which will remain illegal, eliminates the risk of jail time, which encourages people to seek help. Financially, the money that would have gone to incarcerate drug users goes instead to helping them clean themselves up.
This would all sound like a delightful fantasy, if we weren't being led by example: Portugal.
Portugal decriminalized consumption and possession for personal use of all types of drugs on July 1, 2001. Its strategy is based on "containing and reducing the negative effects of substance abuse"*.
Instead of a jailor, people were sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, a social worker, and a legal advisor who determine how they can best help the drug user with their problems.
According to a Cato institute report, drug use and HIV infections from needles dropped while people seeking treatment doubled. Decriminalization does not appear to result in increased drug use.
What does this mean for Canadians? A hard line on this kind of crime would run counter to actually solving the problem. If you reduce drug use by decriminalization and counseling, it would follow that other crimes that accompany drug use would decline as well.
As a country, we will be much farther ahead if we help these people work through their problems rather than lock them up. It's time for a rethink on national drug policy.