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Farewell message from out-going drug-policy leader

September 9th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Here’s more for everyone to debate, with Donald MacPherson’s goodbye message inside city hall that lays out pretty explicity what he thinks the problems are with drug policy.

From: MacPherson, Donald
Sent: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 10:31 AM
To: CSG All Staff (COV) – DL; Mayor and Council (COV) – DL; Mayor’s Office Staff – DL; City Manager’s Staff – DL; Corporate Management Team (COV) – DL

Subject: Movin’ On

    Dear friends and colleagues at the City of Vancouver. The sudden death of long time City staff person Ed Neufeld over the weekend puts my little bit of news in perspective for sure. Ed was a legend in the Downtown Eastside and the City is a much better place for Ed’s contributions over a long career. Life is precious and our condolences go out to Ed’s family and friends.

    I am writing to let you know that I am leaving the City to pursue work outside of local government. My last day will be October 2nd. I have had an extremely good time working for the City since 1987, first at the Carnegie Centre and then in 1997 up here at the “hall”. I can’t say enough about the support that I have received from City staff in the drug policy work that I have been involved in. I am very grateful for having worked with such a committed group of colleagues (both staff and politicians) on some of the most difficult issues that Vancouver faces – mental health, addiction, homelessness and how to support the Downtown Eastside as an integral and healthier piece of the place we call Vancouver.

    I have learned much from my colleagues here at the City and take away a great deal of wisdom that I have gleaned from many of you over the years. Your commitment to tackling the challenging issues that Vancouver faces has certainly inspired me. I am leaving my work at the City for personal reasons. It is time for me to move on to the next adventure and to act on the strong desire to move beyond the municipal realm, build on what we have achieved here in Vancouver and work for policy change at the provincial, national and international level in the area of drug policy.

    Cities are important sites of innovation and change and Vancouver is recognized as a global leader in the area of drug policy for the ways in which we, with our partners, have responded to the serious health and social issues related to substance use in the community. While we have a long way to go to complete this work and I am confident that the City will continue to play a strong leadership role in the future. Just as cities, in many ways, are leading the way on climate change, cities need to play a strong role in advocating approaches to difficult health and social issues that are pragmatic, minimize harm and are effective in creating healthier and more inclusive communities for everyone.

    At the same time there are areas where cities are heavily constrained in addressing difficult issues because of counter-productive policy at other levels of government. Drug policy is one of these areas and change at the national and international level could greatly facilitate the abilities of local governments to address some of these issues. A case in point is our approach to the drug problem that we have in Canada. A war on drugs approach has utterly failed over the past 40 years and must come to an end. The emperor truly has no clothes in this case. People who use drugs should not be criminalized, especially those that develop addictions and/or have mental health problems or are vulnerable in some other way. Much of what plays out on the streets of Vancouver in the never sleeping drug market – the selling, the using, the killing, the infections, the dying and the property crime is a direct result of the criminalization of drugs. The nonsensical and seemingly never ending struggle to keep a small program like Insite open for a population of seriously marginalized and at risk injection drug users is another example of the counterproductive consequences of bad public policy at the federal level. In years to come I believe people will look back on these policies and wonder “What were they thinking?”

    I would like to thank you all for your interest and support over the past many years and look forward to working with you from a different vantage point in the future. Good luck to all of you in your work as Vancouver moves forward.

Leonard Cohen in his recent concert in London England said “It’s been a long time since I stood on a stage in London. It was 14 or 15 years ago. I was sixty years old. Just a kid with a crazy dream!”

I like to fool myself that I am far from sixty but I am definitely “just a kid with a crazy dream”.

Take care of yourselves, and each other.

Donald MacPherson

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Peer pressure gets ’em into using. Lovin’ family gets ’em out! I know from experience. Trouble comes when there’s no lovin’.

    And the issue is far greater than city hall hiring another high priced czar: drug czar, environmental czar, whatever czar!

    Problems, drugs, (not just in DTES!), environment, whatever just chuck money!

    It is wider than good intentions . . .

    BC Bud is one of the provinces’ most valuable cash crops: no one is going to jig with that!

    And the hiring obsession is indicative of how we, all of us, are so alienated from ourselves, our environment: everything around us . . . Yet, Pigeon park is the most socially integrated urban space in town: is there a message there?

    Another hiring binge and hey presto . . . back to biz as usual . . .

    Weep not for Donald M. he saw the futility . . . and he’s off the gai Pareeeee . . .

  • Blaffergassted

    Well said, Donald.

  • This story was submitted to the economist three month’s ago they found it very interesting one hour after it’s submission i got two calls from the CBC here in vancouver to do a TV interview which i declined . ”WHO’S IN CONTROL”


    The dtes is a melting pot of people from all walks, The addiction scourge that exists there will continue to grow as long as this lifestyle is supported by so called harm reduction policies. Safe injection clean needles I agree with for health and potential overdoses. The fact that the Vancouver Police Department will not charge you for possession makes this part of town a freeway to hell. The so called four pillars approach should add another pillar, the fact that insite has over seven thousand registered IV users and the estimated number of people in active addiction is said to be some ten thousand in a twelve square block area, means that all these addict’s have a habit to support and drug’s to buy. To me the fifth pillar seems to be let the drug dealers do what they want. The amount of arrest’s for trafficking does not add up compared to consumption how do i know you ask, well let me tell from a personal observation. Over the last five years I walk and or drive through this area of town daily and it seems that the same drug dealer’s set up shop at the same locations. I have never seen them arrested the seem to be untouchable so in conclusion I say the fifth pillar must be to supply the four. You can get heroin, cocaine ,crack, rx, weed, twenty four seven in this part of town at many well known places. People from across the city as well the country migrate here to the addiction capital of north America knowing that it’s a free for all. Here is a link a to story I have personally written and witnessed in the last six month’s. The first is a video of the Carnegie centre at main and hasting’s the second is a unbelievable example of the brazen drug dealer’s who sell there wares across the street from the Carnegie and some three hundred yards from the Vancouver police station


    WHO’S IN CONTROL Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Today in the downtown eastside of Vancouver it is welfare day. The streets are buzzing with addicts on every corner, and in every alley there are smiles everywhere as people line up to cash their welfare checks at the many different financial institutions.

    Money is being spent on many different things, but the main expenditure on this the most joyful day of the month is drugs; heroin, crack or cocaine, alcohol etc. Although this has been going on for years and is accepted by not only the city, the police, the taxpayers, and the government .

    I as a citizen of this city have had enough! Do I care? You bet I do! I myself have recovered from 25 years of addiction and today have been clean for some seven years. What I saw today was to me the last straw, not more than 300 hundred yards from the Vancouver Police Station on Main Street is a check cashing store, out front there’s a line up since it opened its doors this morning; I walked by and could not believe my eyes. There were 5 two hundred pound Spanish drug dealers standing in front of the door escorting people in and out of the store as if it was theirs, controlling who went in, and even more importantly who came out, only too happy to direct them to one of their associates standing nearby. I was so disgusted by this flagrant arrogance that I took five minutes to walk over to the police station and tell them their business and to complain about what I see as nothing short of telling the people of Vancouver who’s really in control!

    I don’t believe there’s anywhere else in North America that you would ever witness this kind of lawlessness as seen here in the 2010 Olympic city. I’m appealing to every editor of every newspaper in North America other than here in Vancouver to help me stop this out of control situation. Please for the sake of these humans, help me to put pressure on our police, city, and government to enforce the laws of this land and save all or any of these poor lost souls from a life of terminal addiction.

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Donald MacPherson was the most sanctimonious and shameless city employee. His cause celebre was legalization. Nothing he did helped any addicts. All he served to accomplish was to ingratiate himself with the hucksters and celebrity docs that embrace harm seduction.

    Good riddance!

  • MB

    I’m sure glad I’m not related to you, AGT.

    What I find almost as bad as the human tragedy on East hastings is the sanctimonious and cavalier comments from suburban commentators about the “insuferable smugness” of Vancouverites regarding their ‘world class’ status. I have never seen someone carrying a smugness meter in the DTES, which at last glance still remains part of the city.

    And the addicted residents do come from somewhere, maybe even those self same suburbs.

    I agree that the dealers should be thrown in jail, but not the majority of addicts, though some of them become dealers to support their addiction. But RDA and AGT offer nothing than build more jails (which do not rehabilitate addicts) and farcical bitterness. These are not solutions, nor are they even remotely helpful to a problem they have not bothered to define.

    The medical community believes it’s got one or two ideas (researched and peer-reviwed at that)that can make a positive impact, and they should be given an opportunity to try them out after decades of failure by the law and punishment approach.