Diehard law and order types (aka conservatives) undoubtedly will balk at any thought of decriminalizing or legalizing all drug use.
But I am all for it because I think it is evident that what we have been doing, nailing the users along with the pushers, isn’t working.
The issue of decriminalization hit the news again this week when Toronto’s board of health issued a call to the city to urge the federal government to treat all drug use, including illegal street drugs as well as tobacco, alcohol, coffee and pharmaceuticals, as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.
Calling on Canadians to turn their recommendation into a national movement, the board made the move on the recommendation of Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.
“The only way that federal laws are going to change is if we provoke that national conversation,” said board chair Coun. Joe Mihevc, moments before an amended version of the recommendation was unanimously approved.
There have been such calls previously..
As Dr. Marlene Spruyt, Algoma’s medical officer of health, told The Sault Star, such a position has been shared by the Canadian Public Health Association and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for some time.
As well in April the Liberal Party of Canada voted in favour of removing criminal penalties for the personal possession of drugs.
Top health officials in Vancouver and B.C. have for several years called for the removal of criminal penalties for people caught with small amounts of illicit narcotics and in March the City of Vancouver officially recommended the Government of Canada immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs.
This stance is backed by prominent organizations, from the Global Commission on Drug Policy to the World Health Organization.
The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs (CAPC) has not yet taken a stand on decriminalizing, or possibly legalizing, illicit drugs, but a spokesperson for the association told the CBC in April “they’re investigating the issue.”
In March, the group’s board of directors voted to put in place a special committee to look at four issues: Exploring the impact that decriminalization or legalization of drugs could have on police forces, identifying models of decriminalization, looking at existing research and identifying gaps, developing a position for the CAPC.
Waterloo Regional Police Services Chief Bryan Larkin is one who agrees it is time to have a national conversation about decriminalizing drugs in Canada, pointing out this week that the opioid crisis that has gripped the Waterloo region killed 85 people in 2017.
An estimated 4,000 Canadians died last year due to opioids, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada – more than the number of Canadians who died in motor-vehicle accidents and homicides combined.
In British Columbia, where officials declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2016, an average of four people die of overdoses each day.
Yet a stumbling block to decriminalization will be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has said he is not willing to go beyond the legalizing of marijuana that will come into force this year.
And the Conservative Party is against it, Andrew Scheer, the party’s leader, last year attacking Trudeau on Twitter, alleging that his government was considering the decriminalization of drugs beyond marijuana.
But the fact that the cries are mounting for decriminalization may give the movement legs.
Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and in the reports I read on it, the move has had positive effects.
It came after the country was in a dire heroin epidemic — where one percent of the population was addicted to opiates.According to the report containing this information, drug-related deaths in Portugal are now the second-lowest in the European Union. Just three in a million people die of overdoses there, compared with the European Union average of 17.3 per million.
If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty.
Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent and co-author of an article on decriminalization, told the news outlet Mic.com the global community should be measured in its takeaways from Portugal.
“The main lesson to learn is that decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster, and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems,” he said.
Portugal has not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts.
Nor, I would suggest, would we be.
News reports say the Toronto medical health officer’s report also suggests that Ottawa appoint a task force to examine the idea of fully legalizing and regulating the production and distribution of street drugs.
Legalization, it points out, is different from decriminalization. The type of decriminalization that Toronto and Vancouver officials support would only involve removing criminal penalties on the demand side of illicit-drug markets. Legalization, on the other hand, would see the government actually regulate both supply and demand.
I have tried here to paint a picture of a movement whose time, I think, has come, to show that other ways of handling drugs are being contemplated in this country and which are seen to be working in Portugal.
As far as I am concerned, it is definitely time we tried decriminalizing the use all drugs, placing our efforts on attempting to wean users off them and our resources on bringing traffickers to justice.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
However, I am not sure where I stand when it comes to legalization.
Somehow I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the thought of the federal government selling heroin, cocaine or other hardline drugs along the same lines as the provinces do with beer and liquor.