Ex-Vancouver police officer Tony Smith applauds rebuke of war on drugs

A former police officer has said a call by the XVIII International AIDS Conference to end the global war on drugs is a major step toward saving lives around the world.

Tony Smith, a retired 28-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, was referring to the Vienna Declaration, the official statement coming out of this year’s biennial meeting of HIV/AIDS experts, which wraps up in Austria on Friday (July 23).

Smith is a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international group of current and former police officers and members of the legal community that advocates for the decriminalization of drugs.

“It’s becoming more and more clearly spelled out each time any serious research is done that our approach to date has been entirely counterproductive,” Smith told the Straight in a phone interview. “This [declaration] spells it out very clearly that it’s not just the problem with the drugs. It’s also fuelling the AIDS epidemic.”

The Vienna Declaration calls for evidence-based drug policies, while noting that “drug law enforcement has failed to achieve its stated objectives.” It also states that the “criminalisation of people who use illicit drugs” has contributed to the HIV/AIDS problem in the world.

“It is a worldwide declaration of the connection between violence, disease, and prolonging people’s inability to get on with life due to not helping them,” Smith said. LEAP has endorsed the declaration.

Thousands of people and organizations have signed the document, which was drafted by a team that included four experts from B.C. These are: Evan Wood and Thomas Kerr, directors of the Urban Health Research Initiative; Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and president of the International AIDS Society; and Dan Werb, a research associate with the centre.

According to the Vienna Declaration, the war on drugs has led to the “undermining of public health systems” because “law enforcement drives drug users away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of infectious disease transmission (e.g., HIV, hepatitis C & B, and tuberculosis) and other harms is increased.” The statement calls for more harm-reduction and treatment programs.




Jul 22, 2010 at 7:37am

I have personally seen what drugs can do. If drugs were decriminalized I'm sure that help would be more readily available. The affected would more likely seek help without the stigma of being an illegal drug user.

Ted Campbell

Jul 22, 2010 at 8:13am

Good on you Tony - I'm 74 years old, might drink 5 or 6 beer per year and certainly never touch drugs but I'm a real believer that following the old U.S. based so called "war on drugs" is a war against good people. We waste precious resources including money and enforcement people while making the worst people in the world incredibly wealthy. We are 'way overdue for a major change in our thinking and approach.

Wayne Phillips

Jul 23, 2010 at 4:43pm

The government of Canada categorically rejected the Vienna Declaration because it clashes with Canada's National Anti-Drug Strategy. This is not only outrageous, it is foolhardy. It is also both a national embarrassment and a very real health threat to the well-being of all Canadians regardless of where they stand on the issue of an Anti-Drug Strategy.

Furthermore, a comprehensive study released April 27th, 2010 by the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) entitled 'Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review' exposes an extensive correlation between drug law enforcement efforts and increased drug-related crime, homicide and gun violence. The Executive Summary ( found at http://www.icsdp.org/ & http://www.icsdp.org/research/publications.aspx ) demonstrates commonalities between violence and the illicit drug trade in relation to the impacts drug law enforcement has, as intervention, on drug market violence.

Denying harm reduction for the sake of ideological consistency of an Anti-Drug Strategy is not only abhorrent, it is intrinsically evil in its' intent. As the aforementioned study shows Anti-Drug Strategies (of this nature) neither safeguards youth or communities; if anything, they place both directly in the line of fire.

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