Blog post #4 – How the criminalization of drugs effects marginalized communities / the effect that the decriminalization of drugs could have on these communities?
In my last blog post I researched what the decriminalization of drugs entails and What an initiative like this look like both locally in British Colombia and globally. In this blog post I will be researching How the criminalization of drugs effects marginalized communities and the effect that the decriminalization of drugs could have on these communities.
Firstly, what effects positive or negative does the criminalization of drugs have on various marginalized communities. With the criminalization of something comes the stigmatization’s stigma that comes with drug use deters people from seeking the treatment and help they need leading to large number of overdoses (3). A disproportionate number of those deaths due to overdose in Canada are those of indigenous peoples (3). While they only make up around 5 percent of Canadas population in 2017, they represented 10% of overdose deaths (4).
To truly understand the effect that the criminalization of drugs has had on marginalized communities in Canada it’s important to know the history. In 1988 and 1989 legislation was passed forbidding the sale of drug paraphernalia and encouraging police to seize the assets of drug offenders (5). Later in 1995 the controlled drugs and substances act a criminal justice approach as opposed to rehabilitation was strengthened which gave police the power to search and seizure and give maximum sentences for drug offences (5). These actions did not lower death due to drugs; the numbers remained the same all throughout, but what changed? What changed was more funds being allocated towards prisons and policing as opposed to social welfare and resources that people needed to get help. Funds that were previously allocated towards prevention, public housing, and education are now used to sustain this new focus on criminal justice. The funding of the criminal justice system led to over policing in lower income areas, often those of black and indigenous peoples. This has now led to the mass incarceration of black and indigenous peoples in Canada who are often imprisoned due to petty drug offences and serve much longer sentences than their white counterparts. Black peoples make up 9.2 percent of those incarcerated in Canada whilst only making up 3.5 percent of the population (1). It’s not much different for the indigenous population here in Canada, while they make up approximately 5 percent of our population, they but 35 percent of people incarcerated (2). This mass incarceration of marginalized groups due to the criminalization of drugs is not only an issue in the sense of incarceration but in perpetuating stereotypes and creating a cycle in which their communities do not get the funding and social programs they need. This is due to the funds being directed towards policing and incarceration. With a criminal record it is almost impossible to secure employment and housing (3). When people do not receive the funding, they need that is when crime occurs. The government is spending more money to house and imprison prisoners than trying to prevent them.
Secondly, I would like to investigate what the decriminalization of drugs could look like for these communities who are deeply impacted by the criminalization. As I talked about in my last blogpost the decriminalization of drugs would remove criminal penalties for the use of drugs and possession. With the possession of drugs being decriminalized less people from marginalized communities would be incarcerated and would put the emphasis on harm reduction as opposed to punishment (6). Police often stop, search and arrest black and indigenous peoples for drug-related activities because of racist stereotypes (6). These racist stereotypes are what leads to over policing in these communities, decriminalization aims to remove some of the power that police have and aims to end aggressive law enforcement that so often results in the criminalization of marginalized groups (6).
In my next blog post I will be researching How decriminalizing could help tackle the opioid crisis as well as the difference between legalization and decriminalization.
- CBC/Radio Canada. (2022, November 2). Canada failing black, indigenous prisoners as overrepresentation persists: Report | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-black-indigenous-prisoners-overrepresentation-1.6636962
- Corrections. (2021, June 9). BC Corrections and Indigenous justice. Province of British Columbia. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/corrections/reducing-reoffending/indigenous#:~:text=BC%20Corrections%20is%20committed%20to,and%2027%25%20in%20the%20community.
- Criminalizing drug use is harming Canadians – CSAM. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from http://csam-smca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Criminalizing-Drug-Use-is-Harming-Canadians.pdf
- Government of Canada, S. C. (2022, September 21). Indigenous population continues to grow and is much younger than the non-indigenous population, although the pace of growth has slowed. The Daily – . Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220921/dq220921a-eng.htm
- International Journal of Drug Policy – graduate program in Health. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://health.gradstudies.yorku.ca/files/2016/09/The-Canadian-war-on-drugs-Structural-violence-and-unequal-treatment-of-Blacks.pdf
- Mass incarceration and criminalization. Drug Policy Alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://drugpolicy.org/issues/mass-criminalization