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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

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