Want to stop West Coast gang violence? Legalize drugs, says expert

Criminologist draws parallel between Prohibition-era Chicago and modern-day Vancouver


On the 80th anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Ehor Boyanowsky, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, draws a compelling parallel between the gang wars of Prohibition-era Chicago and those in modern-day Vancouver, arguing the drug trade has taken on the proportions of the booze trade back in the 30s.  Boyanowsky, who specializes in violence and aggressive behaviour, compares current “empty prattling of countless learned commentators regarding the need for increased police resources” to the misguided campaigns of the Depression-era temperance movement. “The only panacea,” he says, “is the legalization and government regulation of illegal drugs.”

The Vancouver Sun

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Want to stop West Coast gang violence? Legalize drugs, says expert

  1. Oh, the dear sweet boy! What a suggestion.
    Mr. Boyanowsky, legalizing drugs would result in more layoffs than the impending bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler, and these people have power (and guns). Nope, not going to happen

    • Wow, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone say we shouldn’t legalize drugs because they’re worried that gangbangers will lose their jobs. Poor little criminals. Don’t worry, they’ll still have prostitution, stolen goods, guns and extortion to keep them busy.

      In several states in the USA, marijuana is the number one cash crop, even in California where they grow food that feeds half the country. The government is getting no tax money from this, costing them literally billions. This is the reason it may one day be legalized, not to prevent crime but so the government can get it’s cut of the action.

      • I’m thinking, hoping, that scanner was being sarcastic. The jobs, like the ones at illegal distilleries all over the place, would simply become legit and the excess lead in our environment and the bodies of targeted ‘bangers would decrease dramatically.

        • I’d say he was talking about all the enforcement officials and their ilk that have built up an enormous industry here trying to protect people from themselves. The Eliot Nesses of our day. If drugs are legalized, what’s the point of their jobs?

          • Remember the original purpose of the provincial “Liquor Control Boards”? It wasn’t to SELL alcohol.

  2. I have no problem with legalizing drugs in theory to undercut the supply lines of criminals and provide places for the rejects of society to get high.

    One question though, how will the law help me force my loved ones who become drug addicts to get institutionalized help against their will? Right now catching them for possession of illegal drugs does that job quite well.

    • I’m not sure that jails do a great job of helping folks to cope with addicitons.

      Nor does the current regime of enforcement do much to prevent addiction in the first place.

    • And gives them criminal records, reduces their ability to find employment subsequently and to travel. How about a debate on including your concern as a part of the existing reasons to have someone admitted to psychiatric help?

    • Terry, Sean is right. Prisons do NOT help people overcome drug use. Prisons teach people how to become CRIMINALS. Pot smokers are only “criminals” or “rejects” because people like you slap that label on them due to the substance being prohibited. Why on earth do you think it’s okay for good, otherwise law-abiding citizens to have their lives completely ruined by law enforcement, the judicial system, and prison inmates simply because they want to smoke pot? Not to mention, pot is far less harmful than alcohol or nicotine.

      Are we to assume that you don’t drink alcohol, take prescription drugs, drink caffeine, or smoke cigarettes? If you do, then you’re as much a “reject” as anyone who uses pot, and a hypocrite.

  3. Think of the money diverted from policing (which doesn’t appear to be working) to rehabilitation of addicts. It is easier to prove someone is on drugs (simple blood or urine test) than to prove some one is a gangster, and cheaper too. Time to legalize and control just like liquor.

    • Agreed! All the money that is spent housing non-violent offenders is ridiculous. Yes, liquor causes it’s problems to society, but gangs shooting it out on the streets for control over who has the right to sell beer in the neighborhood isn’t one of them.

    • Why do you think police associations pay ‘socioligists’ to research and lobby on their behalf? Unions want the OT and extra bodies and the police chiefs use the stats to defend increases in resources.

      • Bah!! Like the right-wing will ever let us divert funds from policing to prevention & treatment. That would be socialist. We evil non-fascist-police-state-mongers deserve whatever happens to us.

    • But then there’d be more people doing drugs since it’s more available which would make more addicts and thus use up more of taxpayers’ money for rehab anyway.

      Oh and we won’t undercut druglords b/c we’d be adding a tax (to get tax revenue right? ;) ) to the legalized drugs.

      It’s an illusion that legalization would solve anything.

      Don’t give in to criminals. It’s like giving in to the Joker. haha!

  4. If the current financial crisis could somehow be used to finally justify the end to Prohibition (Tax and Regulate gives government more money than does Ban and Jail) then we could perhaps have one thing to point to as a positive amongst all the pain. One slight improvement in sanity.

    And to Terry, if you like the idea of jailing your relatives because of their addictions, I pity your relatives. Stay the heck away from my family.

    • It isn’t a question of liking to jail people, it is a question of what one can do to stop self-destructive behavior before they end up killing themselves.

      Largely people have the rights of autonomy after they turn 18, and the ability to assert authority is reduced for parents even among their adolescent children. So what do you do to stop a prostitute/junkie before they end up dead in an alley or scattered among the manure pile of a BC pig farm?

      Sure, it would be nice if rational argument could sway somebody to come clean, but there is a reason trading and possessing substances became illegal in the first place. It isn’t like we haven’t experienced modern society with a completely legal trade in opium, heroin, and cocaine.

      So how can we force people to accept treatment for drugs that will eventually kill them if they are legalized? Or would legalizing drugs force people to essentially accept the fact that they we are all helpless to intervene in self-destructive behaviours? What happens when people go outside the law to try and force treatment?

      • People are dying of heroin addiction even as we speak. Making the drug illegal does nothing to deter them. Anyone who wants to become a junkie, right here and now, can easily become one. It is not because heroin is illegal that more people are not junkies. Being a junkie sucks and everybody, everybody knows it.

        Anyway, if people want to kill themselves, why not let them? Suicide itself isn’t illegal, so why should the slow kind be?

        What do you mean “it isn’t like we haven’t experienced modern society with [legal drugs]”? It’s been 80 years, and society has changed a bit since then. Drugs were banned back when alcohol was illegal. It was not to save us from some apocalyptic scenario we were hurtling towards; it was puritanism, plain and simple.

        • I imagine your attitude would be different if it was your son/daughter who was engaged in meth or heroin addiction. It is fine to say that you should just let someone die, but what do you do if you had a personal attachment to the person?

          Do we grant people the right to appeal to a medical/judicial commission or some other judicial authority to strip someone’s rights of autonomy, but without a criminal record? Do we simply look the other way or slap wrists when people kidnap their adult children and attempt to force treatment or separate them the drug culture? I have to tell you, if it was my child who was living as a prostitute and junkie in Vancouver, simply shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well, if my daughter wants to kill herself” won’t be an option.

          As for what I mean, I mean a urbanized society with legal drug use. Dens where people can lie around getting high all day and committing crimes or engaging in prostitution hasn’t changed all that much in 80 years, and Amsterdam is a good model for both the good and the bad sides of drug and prostitution legalization.

          Having drug possession be illegal can allow for a parent or other concerned individual extract someone from a drug den or from the control of her pimp by calling the cops is still a key benefit for both of those activities being illegal, even if there is a lot of bad consequences as well.

          • If my own son/daughter were a junkie, I would do whatever I could to try and get them off the stuff. And we do have programs for that now. More importantly, when I do end up having children I will be sure to eventually explain to them why heroin is so deadly. And not in a “it’s bad for you” kind of way but by actually showing them what it leads to.

            I do not understand the first half of your second paragraph.

            “I have to tell you, if it was my child who was living as a prostitute and junkie in Vancouver, simply shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well, if my daughter wants to kill herself” won’t be an option.”

            Good for you. Of course, there’s sometimes tragically little a parent can do, but it’s nice to hear you wouldn’t just cut her loose — which happens too, though one shouldn’t really judge until one’s been in that nightmarish situation oneself, either as victim of heroin or as the family member of a victim.

            “As for what I mean, I mean a urbanized society with legal drug use. Dens where people can lie around getting high all day and committing crimes or engaging in prostitution hasn’t changed all that much in 80 years, and Amsterdam is a good model for both the good and the bad sides of drug and prostitution legalization.”

            You might want to look out the front door, Terry. Such places already exist in our urban centres, and the main effect of having such misery be illegal is to add the threat of bullying by the state to the junkies’ other serious problems.

            “Having drug possession be illegal can allow for a parent or other concerned individual extract someone from a drug den or from the control of her pimp by calling the cops”

            Give me a break. What do you do then, confine the person extracted to the house? We have free movement of people in this country. Or is that next on your list of things to outlaw?

      • Terry, the world could do without attitudes like yours. Your narrow-minded view of this situation is what has helped create the violence associated with this problem.

        Why the hell do you care if other people are “clean” or not anyway? It’s really NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS what other people do, unless they hurt you directly, which they are not when they use drugs. The argument that because people use drugs is causing the violence holds no water. The reason there is violence is BECAUSE OF PROHIBITION. That is the ONLY reason there is violence with regard to illegal drugs.

        Get out of other people’s lives and live your own. Sounds like you don’t have enough to do, perhaps you need to find a nice hobby?

        • Really? So cocaine and LSD have no side-effects such as paranoia, irritibility, or VIOLENCE? Maybe you should do some research first before using the word ONLY.

          • Right, dude broke into my car a few years ago and stole my video camera because he was paranoid and irritable. Nothing to do with the high price of drugs, no sir.

  5. We seem to really think that if something doesn’t work, we should do a lot more of it and then it might work. We have the example of alcohol prohibition in the 1920’s and how counter-productive that was and how totally ineffective. Recently we have the example of Thailand who were hoping that the very successful eradication of the poppy crop in ‘The Golden Triangle’ would result in the end of their drug abuse problems.
    Guess what! Crystal-meth, cooked-up in bathrooms and garages is just one of many drugs that was sucked into the vacuum left by the lack of heroin! There is no measurable reduction in addicts in Thailand, just a different but same problem.
    There will always be a proportion of every society that want’s to take mind-altering substances, the percentage of users is related to the level of poverty, no surprise here. We cannot legislate an end to substance. We can use our education and health systems to minimize the damage to individuals and society in general. For years, some of our brightest minds have been thinking of ways to manage drug distribution (see BC Public Health Doctors), it is time to give them the task of curing our ills. Our over-funded, overworked, under-staffed and largely ineffective law enforcement effort (see King Canute) fails every year. The budgets are increased and the problem gets worse, year after year.
    I say, give the funding to Health Care and Education, professionals who CAN make a real difference. Free up our police force to pursue real criminals. The gangs in Vancouver will have a lot less to fight about without the funding from the illegal drugs business which pays for their arsenals!

    • I thought you were against legalization when I read the first line b/c the same thing can be said about legalizing drugs.

      If prohibition of drugs can’t prevent ppl from doing drugs, we should legalize it. Then, that would prevent people from doing drugs? Makes no sense to me.

      • It would prevent organized crime from profiting from drugs, this has nothing to do with stopping people from using drugs, people will use drugs illegal or not. People have used drugs since the dawn of civilization, you can not stop it legal or illegal. The only thing prohibition does is create a black market that gives criminals a huge amount of cash flow, money equals power, status, and influence, and prohibition hands it to them on a silver platter. This isnt about the good or bad of drug use this is about gangsters shooting it out in our neighborhoods for control of territory, that can be ended by legalization. Sure you still have people who cant control their drug use and become addicted but you have that already, legal or illegal nothing changes, legal just means that society can at least get back something, but no you are fine with organized crime being the only people to profit and the public continuing to waste millions and millions, that could be spent on much more important issues like education and family wealfare that would do more to help our society then this fruitless effort at prohibition. It is and will always be an utter waste of resources, you can round up every drug dealer in the country and there will always be someone else to step in, it is a never ending cycle, break the cycle, stop prohibition.

  6. Once marijuana is legalized, what is the best way to sell it? Through government liquor stores? Through private pharmacies?

    Would buyers need to register somehow to prevent legal Canadian weed being bought in quantity for resale on the black market in other countries?

    Have any of these options been written about?

    • If we’re going to have government liquor stores anyway, we might as well sell legalized drugs through them, though I can see many liquor store employees refusing work or service to a great number of the clients.

      There is also the problem of what to do with first-time buyers. For drugs that cause instant and irreparable harm, I imagine you would merely satisfy a demand for heroin, acid, meth etc. for people that are already addicted and thus need a system where one can be registered as an addict.

      This still leaves a market for various private drug dealers, who will have to provide their product for cheaper than the government can afford to, which I imagine isn’t that hard. Thus, you will still need to protect territory and supply lines from getting ripped off. The only difference perhaps is that the police will be obligated to provide some measure of muscle to prevent theft of hard drugs and money as they will be legal commodities.

      • Good point about some Liquor Store employees being uncomfortable serving marijuana customers. For this reason, a government marijuana store would have employees who know upfront the conditions of their employment. In BC, the government agency is called the Liquor Control Board. A parallel for pot could be the Marijuana Control Board.

        • “If we’re going to have government liquor stores anyway, we might as well sell legalized drugs through them”

          There’s no reason to insist on providing drugs through government stores. The product quality would undoubtedly be terrible and the prices ridiculous, which will encourage people to remain with their current dealers and defeat the purpose of the entire endeavor. Leave it to private stores, which will be staffed by people who have no moral qualms about dispensing drugs — thereby avoiding the problem of asking liquor store employees to sell pot, and avoiding the creation of another government monopoly to fleece consumers.

          “I imagine you would merely satisfy a demand for heroin, acid, meth etc. for people that are already addicted”

          No. What would be the point of that? To leave some business for violent gangs?

      • Funny thing about meth, well not funny at all, meth could be eliminated from our society without any effort at all. The key ingredient in meth is a very specific drug that can only be produced in very expensive labsfactorys, there are only a half a dozen such places in the world. That ingredient is the prime ingredient in cold medication, all you have to do is put that type of cold remedy behind the counter and the meth industry would collapse overnight. You are thinking if its that easy why the hell hasnt it been done already, simple, the drug companys that make that drug are making a killing becuase meth labs are buying it up in massive quantitys and the drug lobbys are making damn sure that that product stays right where everyone can easily get it. Overnight, meth could be gone and the only drawback is you would have to ask at the counter for your cold medicine, sad but true.


    1) Give peace officers the right to search and seize! If you satisfy a peace officer’s own belief that you meet the typical gangster stereotype, (known criminal,( or associate) male, under 30 and drive a $70,000 BMW) – these are sufficent reasonable and probable grounds! Vehicles and persons in this category should be stopped and searched at any time , under any circumstance in order to get weapons and drugs off the street.

    2) The Government must take a much more aggressive stand in punitive action towards organized crime. Pass laws that give police the right to seize and sell any assets of the criminal (as a measure to pay for the costs of dealing with crime) Think about it! Would you be driving around in your Caddy, Beemer or Mercedes with a handgun under the seat knowing there was a good chance you’d lose it all?
    Jail doesn’t work and especially the two for one deal they get for dead time. Should the taxpayer foot the $90,000/year bill to hold these punks in jail? Let’s make the criminal pay, so there are real consequences for their illegal actions!! And by the way, if you are driving mommy’s car when you are engaged in violent/criminal activity, then “mommy” loses her car.

    3) Make parents responsible for their childrens actions. If you are convicted of murder as a youth, the parent pays (even if that means losing their home). We have to have parents monitoring and controlling their kids activities. Kids as young as thirteen are often initiated into gangs. This is the critical time for parents to engage with their kids.

    Follow these steps and we will rid ourselves of drugs and gangs. If we do not take action NOW, we will be like Mexico and California where drugs and crime are rampant with full control. Let’s get with it – Stevie!

    • Dave, all of that stuff has been tried in the U.S. Prohibition doesn’t work and just makes things worse.

    • Ha! Dave, that’s pretty funny! CanaDad is right, it’s all been tried. The only thing that has not been tried is removing prohibition. From the looks of things, removal of prohibition is the last viable solution. The problem is that drugs like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, mushrooms, and LSD cannot be patented, so the drug companies will keep lobbying Congress to keep them illegal, especially marijuana, because they know how much of a chunk of their beloved revenue it will take from them. Why would pot take such a huge chunk of their cash? Because everyone knows that it does not kill people. It’s only side effects are temporary (munchies, short-term memory loss, sleepiness). And anyone can grow it, or get it from someone else. Also, pot has a fantastic quality for making people FEEL GOOD, which is NOT what drug companies want. They want people to feel like shit and to take their drugs, which have horrid side effects, so that they’ll just keep taking their drugs, hence keeping up their revenue.

      It’s all about the money. The US Government likes the money they get from pharmaceutical companies and companies like DuPont who want to keep pot and hemp illegal. They’re all just fine with people killing each other over weed and cocaine. Doesn’t really hurt their bottom line. There will have to be some major action on the part of voters to come forward and fight for their right to partake of and possess pot legally. We all need to contact our Senators and Representatives often and continuously to let them know that we won’t stand for this any longer. IT IS TIME FOR CHANGE.


      • But the removal of prohibition caused a rise in alcohol consumption, didn’t it?

        So wouldn’t the legalization of drugs cause a rise in drug consumption?

  8. It seems people are misinterpreting my comments. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of legalization, but there needs to be something in place to deal with the inevitable problems, and the demands of loved ones for state help and interference. I understand that people are largely in prison because we haven’t a better way to deal with them, though these days people are largely in prison for behavioral, mental, and drug problems rather than poverty.

    I don’t buy the whole “if people are just left alone” then we’ll have a beautiful utopia with clean streets and poor and peaceful criminals. The vice trade and organized crime will have a role to play in the drug business when illegal drugs are legalized, and really they’d rather prefer it were. Again, we can look at Amsterdam and learn from its failures and successes. It is not a coincidence that this famously liberal part of the Netherlands has gotten a little less liberal about drugs and prostitution lately.

    Also, it is very rare for someone who sits in his own house getting high while sustaining meaningful employment to get charged with drug possession. People driving around with drugs in cars, people doing drugs or intoxicated in public, and people who are of interest to police already are the ones who generally get charged with possession. Drugs are a convenient way to get a search warrant and to deal with troublesome people in the neighbourhood, and to add years on the prison sentence of people.

    So fine, we don’t worry about the harm people cause to their families and their communities, and we accept regulations in place similar to those for alcohol.

    But what do we do to restrict the freedom of movement for the people that are going to end up insane or dead through drug use? Do we turn a blind eye to people who do it themselves, and accept that “she was a few months from death” as an acceptable excuse for kidnapping and forced treatment? Can you go before a judge and claim drug use as a reason why you should be given power of attorney over someone? Currently, we have programs in place where people agree to have someone else manage their money for them because they are just going to drink/get high off it, both civil servants and volunteers in religious and secular charities. Does this program get expanded?

    If we don’t use prisons, what can we do to restrict the freedoms of our spouses, children, parents or siblings? Will it be a process similar to having someone committed? Do we need to build more drug treatment centers to handle hard drug users?

    Do we license drug vendors? Are all drugs legal, even those that will cause long-term neurological damage or serious health problems with just a few doses? Do we restrict drug use to the premises that sell them? Can you refuse to rent to someone if they are a drug user? Can you evict someone for drug use?

    Saying it’s “not working now” is not a good enough reason to legalize. You will have to have systems in place to deal with the exact same concerns that led to drugs being made illegal in the first place.

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