Nate believes in a sensible and evidence-based approach to drug policy, and that we can and should treat drug abuse as a health issue, and not as a crime.
Representing Canada at a United Nations Parliamentary Hearing in New York
In February 2016, Nate represented Canada as part of a delegation to a UN Parliamentary Hearing in New York on the topic of “The World Drug Problem: Taking Stock and Strengthening the Global Response.” He participated in a debate alongside a Mexican Senator, arguing that governments “should seek alternatives to incarceration when addressing possession of drugs for personal use.” Read more about the event here and here.
Cannabis legalization and regulation
Nate has been a strong supporter of our government’s promise to legalize cannabis.
In May 2017, Nate delivered a speech in the House of Commons in support of the Cannabis Act:
We have struck that balance between Canadians as responsible adults and a public health approach. Legislation on this subject that satisfies a civil libertarian like myself and a former police chief, like my neighbour from Scarborough Southwest, is no easy feat. CAMH supports our public health approach, as does the Canadian Nurses Association.
Nate has also asked a number of questions in the House of his Conservative colleagues on this issue, pointing out that alcohol has many more risks of harm than cannabis:
Cannabis isn’t as dangerous as alcohol, let alone fentanyl. pic.twitter.com/xLvi2cHNdS
— Nate Erskine-Smith (@beynate) November 22, 2017
In November 2017, he appeared in the first episode of TVO’s new series Political Blind Date, to debate cannabis legalization with drug prohibitionist and Conservative MP, Garnett Genius. You can watch the show online here.
Nate also appeared on a segment of TVO’s The Agenda, leading into the Political Blind Date show. And the show was covered in the Toronto Star here, with Nate and Garnett’s post-show Q&A also published in the Toronto Star here.
Nate and MP Genius (left) take a selfie with their
Tweed factory tour guide on Political Blind Date (source: TVO)
With the Cannabis Act on its way to becoming law, Nate has turned his attention to advocacy on behalf of patients opposed to the excise tax on medical cannabis, and to an expedited record suspension process to undo the damage of criminal records related to cannabis.
Nate has consistently been vocal against giving Canadians criminal records for small possession of cannabis or consuming cannabis. He was the only member of the Liberal caucus to vote in support of immediately decriminalizing cannabis while the government pursued legalization. Nate said: “Decriminalization is a half measure, but a half measure is better than no measure.”
Decriminalization and a public health approach for all drug possession and use
Nate believes that the war on drugs has been an abject failure, and that we should regulate and restrict access to all drugs according to their respective harms.
In early January 2017, Nate published an op-ed in Vice News Canada calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession as a logical next step to our government’s progressive drug policy.
And in late January 2017, Nate delivered a speech in the House of Commons in support of Bill C-37, to expand access to safe injection clinics across Canada.
We can, and should, treat drug use and abuse as a health issue and not as a crime. Our government has committed to a sensible and evidence-based approach to drug policy; that approach is emphasized by the recent task force report on cannabis regulation, and it is emphasized by our health minister‘s actions. Those include restoring harm reduction as a key pillar of Canada’s drug strategy, permitting physicians to prescribe heroin to severe drug addicts, and introducing Bill C-37, effectively repealing the previous Conservative government’s attack on evidence and supervised consumption sites.
Prohibition treats the very people we want to help, the victims, the users, the addicts, as criminals. Looking outside of Canada, we know there is a better path.
In 2001, Portugal decriminalized low-level possession and use of all drugs. Those caught with drugs are sent before dissuasion commissions, which include representatives from law, medicine, and social work. More than 80% of cases are dismissed without sanction, and the number of people arrested and sent to criminal courts declined by more than 60%. There has been no major increase in drug use. In fact, the level of drug use is below the European average. Adolescent and problematic drug use has decreased, and the number of deaths from drug overdoses has dropped significantly.
I am not suggesting that I have all of the answers, but I am asking our government and this House to consider additional public health and harm reduction measures. I am asking us to work together to save lives.
Here’s a video of Nate’s entire speech in support of the bill:
To continue this advocacy, Nate submitted a policy resolution via the Liberal Party’s caucus policy resolution process for the National Liberal Policy Convention, calling on the government to address the opioid crisis through a public health approach by treating drug abuse as a health issue, expanding treatment and harm reduction services, and reclassifying all drug possession and consumption as an administrative violation. This resolution finished #2 at the Liberal Party’s Halifax policy convention.
The government acted on the resolution by investing $231 million to address the opioid crisis through a public health approach in Budget 2018. This includes $150 million of emergency funding to increase access to treatment to directly help those suffering with their addiction, $18.7 million over five years to address stigma faced by people who use drugs, $31.6 million to help border security intercept fentanyl and other illegal substances, and $17.9 million to improve research and access to public-health data and analysis.
© 2020 Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. All rights reserved.