David Kennedy does not advocate alcohol and drug use.
What the retired Vernon doctor does advocate is learning how to better manage the use of psychoactive drugs.
“Many, many, many people are choosing to use them and that’s what we need to look at, and learn how to manage that,” said Kennedy, who gave an hour-long talk titled The Failed Drug War: A Dragon In our Living Rooms Thursday morning at the Halina Centre in front of a crowd of 40.
“I’d like to focus on the area of policy. Not necessarily the effects of drugs but the effects policy have on people who use.”
Kennedy, whose lengthy medical career included a keen interest in addictions and drug use, used the metaphor of a boy imagining a dragon in his house to cite how the war against drugs has failed.
The boy tells his mom there’s a dragon in the house and the mom denies it. Every time the boy sees the dragon and tells his mom, she denies it and the dragon gets bigger to the point the dragon is so big he’s running the show.
One night, dad comes home, sees the big dragon and says they have to do something about it.
“That’s the message,” said Kennedy.
“Once we start to say there’s a dragon there and we can manage it, it becomes more manageable.”
Kennedy said there are three types of psychoactive drug use: recreational, addictive and medical, and that people are going to use psychoactive substances such as marijuana, cocaine, alcohol and methamphetamine.
Addiction will never go away but it ought to be managed better than what is being done, he added.
Kennedy, who told the crowd he had never smoked marijuana or done any hard drugs, never smoked a cigarette and is a low-risk drinker, said that a prohibition on psychoactive drugs is an idea that would be the “worst of the worst.”
“Legal regulation, not legalization, I think is the best term to use,” he said.
“Legal regulation eases into the topic.”
Legal regulation of psychoactive drugs would mean there would be drug-specific controls in place, and there would a four-pillar-management style focusing on prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement.
The government, said Kennedy, would be the legal regulation provider of the drugs. Under prohibition, it’s the criminal element who provides the drugs.
“There would have to be licensed drug specific regulation and a governmental regulatory agency,” said Kennedy.
Prohibition has failed in the United States, illustrated by the fact that America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, said Kennedy, with more than half the prison population locked up for drug offences.
Rather than spend money on law enforcement, court fees and prison expenditures, Kennedy stated people should be diverted to treatment programs and not be considered criminals under law.
He showed statistics from Portugal, where once drug prohibition on psychoactive drugs was rescinded, crime went down considerably.
Kennedy closed his talk by quoting from Tony Newman, a director with the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance, who states the world has to learn to live with drugs, something that’s been around for thousands of years.
“We need to educate people about the harms, and we need to offer compassion and treatment to those that have problems and leave in peace those who are not causing harm to others,” said Kennedy.
The presentation was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women.