Most drug traffickers on welfare

May 12, 2005, vol. 33, no. 2
By Diane Luckow

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A new study profiling 600 street-level drug traffickers in Vancouver's downtown eastside reveals that the majority are Canadian citizens on welfare who have prior criminal convictions. Most are dealing in cocaine.

The study was conducted by SFU master of arts student Kash Heed, a Vancouver police officer who previously commanded the Vancouver police drug section.

“No research of this kind had been done before,” says Heed, who is currently commanding officer of the southeast side of Vancouver. “When I was commanding officer of the drug unit I realized that something had to be looked at, because for so many years, our practices and policies have not worked.”

His MA thesis, which he recently defended in front of examiners that included mayor Larry Campbell, criticizes the war on drugs and suggests areas for change in order to establish realistic, practical policies for addressing the drug trade. Increased enforcement is not among the suggestions.

“A lot of our policies are along the lines of increased enforcement, which has created a paradoxical effect where we have made the situation worse by the policies we put in place,” he says.

Instead, he recommends decriminalization and treatment to fight Vancouver's drug problems. He'd like to see a separation of the supply and demand sides of the drug problem and a shift from targeting big international organizations by means of drug busts at points of entry, to a concern for final users, the organization and function of local markets and the local criminal gangs and individuals who serve them.

He also recommends educating the public to understand that drug trafficking is not a problem imported to Canada from outside.

“The typical drug salesperson is not a wealthy gangster,” he says, “but rather a person on the fringes of society who does not possess a wide range of options in life.”

Heed would like to initiate a public dialogue on the alternative policy of treatment and rehabilitation. “The figures seem to show that there is a segment of people arrested for trafficking who could be treated for their addiction problems where those exist, and then encouraged and supported to move away from the criminal lifestyle that is the mark of the repeat trafficking offender.”

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