Okay, pretty pedestrian stuff for most Canadians, but an amazing admission for one of Canada’s foremost and outspoken drug warriors to make:
Harper met Canadian journalists and readily admitted differences over the exclusion of Cuba from the Latin summit. He admitted, too, to a disagreement over British rule in the Falkland Islands.
But he was not ready to agree that the division over drug policy is so clear-cut. Rather, he insisted that there is much agreement. Then came the most interesting quote of the day.
“What I think everybody believes,” Harper said, “is that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do.”
This would be intriguing from any prime minister. From Stephen Harper, whose government’s crime bill ratchets up the penalties for drug possession, it was startling.
But don’t worry, Conservative hard-liners: after that brief slip into honest talk about the ongoing failure of drug prohibition, he quickly rallied and got back to the standard drug warrior talking points:
Lest anyone think he’d undergone a conversion in Cartagena, Harper quickly added the other side of the story.
Drugs, he said, “are illegal because they quickly and totally — with many of the drugs — destroy people’s lives.”
Update: Chris Selley reads the tea leaves and thinks there’s a hint in Harper’s words that may indicate a slight improvement:
So, there’s the same old lunacy. Ending alcohol prohibition was a pretty “simple answer,” wasn’t it? One doesn’t hear many regrets about it nowadays. It is amazing that it still needs to be said, but one more time: Prohibition ensures the overall supply of any given drug will be far more dangerous, if not more addictive, than it would be otherwise. Criminals have only made as much money trafficking drugs, only killed as many scores of thousands of people as they have, because those drugs are illegal. And in light of this, cracking down on otherwise law-abiding people for growing and distributing small amounts of marijuana is patently insane.
Still, if we parse Mr. Harper’s words closely — perhaps too closely — we find him arguing that “many” drugs “destroy people’s lives,” which implies that some don’t. If the “current approach is not working,” as Mr. Harper says, and if “there is a willingness” to consider other approaches … well, what else can we possibly be talking about except, at the very least, lightening up on pot?
Most likely, of course, this was just situational rhetoric. If Mr. Harper was going to go temporarily squishy on drugs, it would be among presidents and prime ministers whose constituents are slaughtered to feed Mr. Harper’s constituents’ habits. Central and South American leaders grow weary of this, as you might imagine.