Decriminalization of drugs in Canada demands bold leadership — now

Posted on July 16, 2020 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: , , – Opinion/Contributors

Yet even in the face of such crises, the government has still not abolished the long-failed effort to stamp out drug use through criminal penalties, which has wasted public funds while fuelling needless suffering, disease, and death.

But after decades of pressure for change, things are changing — and political leaders need to act decisively.

Last week, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) called for an end to the criminalization of simple drug possession (i.e. possession for personal use). Police chiefs across the country now agree that “the evidence suggests … decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use.” The report affirms that a “compelling case” has been made for “transformative change” to Canada’s current approach to drug possession.

The experiences of people who use drugs — those whose lives, health, and safety have been most egregiously harmed by criminalization — offer perhaps the most compelling case for ending the war on drugs, which is really a war on people, who are often the most marginalized and disproportionately Black and Indigenous.

Add to this the overwhelming scientific evidence of the many harms arising from the criminalization of simple possession, the long-standing recommendations from many public health and harm reduction experts, the unanimous recommendation of UN agencies, and now the agreement of police chiefs across the country.

This overwhelming support should be more than enough for policy-makers to take action. Now. Without further delay.

We have seen during the time of COVID-19 that policy can be deployed well and quickly to address of a public health crisis. The current federal government repeatedly says that it will be guided by science and evidence, and by respect for Charter rights. And we’ve heard a lot from all levels of government lately that, in responding to COVID-19, they will be guided by public health advice from experts.

But somehow, when it comes to drugs, the repeated public health advice to decriminalize simple possession has been ignored.

Simply put, criminalization kills. Decriminalization of simple drug possession is an important tool that must be deployed if we want to end the overdose crisis.

So what needs to be done?

Parliament must amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to repeal the criminal prohibition on simple possession of drugs, full stop. A majority of parties represented in the House of Commons support decriminalization. A bill already introduced in Parliament (Bill C-235) would do this; it should proceed without delay.

But legislative changes take time, and urgent action is needed today. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Canada’s Minister of Health can effectively decriminalize simple drug possession by granting a nationwide exemption under section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

It’s truly that easy and could easily be that quick. It’s a signature, from one minister, requiring no further consensus than what the evidence, experts, and now law enforcement have already provided. There’s no need for more study, more committees, more delay.

Already, 160 civil society organizations across Canada have asked the Health Minister to do just this, most recently in a joint letter delivered six weeks ago.

While politicians dither, people — family members, friends, colleagues, community members, loved ones — are dying in record numbers.

Enough is enough. Decriminalize now.

Richard Elliott is executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Caitlin Shane is a drug policy lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. Donald MacPherson is the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 16th, 2020 at 11:05 am and is filed under Governance Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply