Colby Cosh points out that the recent spate of deaths from ecstasy overdoses in western Canada is at least as much a result of the way the so-called War on Drugs is being prosecuted:
In recent weeks, it seems, adulterated ecstasy (MDMA) has left Alberta and B.C. with a sizable heap of young corpses. A tragedy has thus come home to roost in the West: namely, the tragedy of policy that incentivizes adulteration of drugs that, if manufactured in the open and checked for purity, would kill hardly anybody. Pure MDMA has a larger “therapeutic index” — a wider safety margin for overdose — than alcohol. It would probably make a pretty reasonable substitute for alcohol in many settings if we were to sit down and rebuild a drug culture from scratch. But over the past ten years or so, both Liberal and Conservative governments have worked to increase penalties for and monitoring of the flow of “precursor chemicals” used in the manufacture of MDMA.
It has been their goal to make pure MDMA more difficult to manufacture; when precursors are seized it is hailed as a triumph. But illicit drug factories never do put out the follow-up press release announcing that they’re putting less MDMA in their “ecstasy” and replacing it with other party drugs that have much smaller safety margins, or with drugs that interact dangerously with MDMA. And when rave kids die as a result, the RCMP chooses not to pose imperiously alongside the body bags giving a big thumbs-up. They are eager to take credit only for the immediately visible results of their work.
[. . .]
The debate over “harm reduction” in Canada has, for the past year or so, revolved around the Insite clinic in East Vancouver. That debate has been fraught with as much confusion and misinformation as drug moralizers could possibly create, but the core message, I think, has gotten through to Canadians, and certainly to the gatekeepers of their media. The message is this: we have only meagre power to stop people from abusing heroin if they are determined to do that. We do have, however, significant ability to protect people from the problems of a poorly-titrated or actively adulterated supply of heroin. The morbidity and mortality burden from the actual addiction itself, compared to the burden resulting from the drug’s illegality, is both modest and intractable. Insite is basically designed to yield the benefits that allowing heroin to be issued by prescription would bring.
Canada is apparently too under-equipped with libertarians to see that the logic extends to ecstasy, which about a million adult Canadians have used at least once. Yet rave-scene users have already been implementing “harm reduction” philosophy on the dance floor for decades. They react as best they can to adulteration risks by sharing information about dealer reliability, and they mitigate the most important medical peril of MDMA — the possibility of hyperthermia, i.e., internal overheating — by making sure ravers have access to cool rooms and plenty of fluids.
No government of any ideological stripe has ever successfully kept intoxicants away from eager customers: not the US government in Prohibition, not the Soviet government (on-the-job drunkenness was endemic), not even modern day prison authorities (drugs are plentiful behind bars). The “War on Drugs” has — predictably — failed. The question should be how to minimize the harm to drug users and society at large, because drug prohibition is a massive failure.