Legalizing hard drugs not a ‘panacea’ to opioids crisis, Trudeau says


OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s unconvinced that decriminalizing hard drugs is a “panacea” to the country’s ongoing opioids crisis, and other options need a chance before considering such a major policy shift.

But Trudeau once felt the same way about marijuana — conceding it during an interview this week — before changing his mind.

During the wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said the epidemic requires a complex set of answers and not simply decriminalizing opioids to undercut a tainted black-market supply, as some jurisdictions have suggested.

The prime minister said his government plans to focus on solutions such as giving doctors more authority to prescribe alternatives to street drugs and creating more supervised consumption sites across the country.

However, opening supervised sites is more difficult in places where people are leery of supplying sterile drug paraphernalia and workers who can respond quickly to overdoses, he said, particularly in provinces headed by “capital-C conservative” governments.

The most recent figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that nearly 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016, a staggering number that Trudeau said makes him want to pull whatever levers are at the government’s disposal.

Nearly all of those deaths are due to accidental overdoses. The composition of street drugs is practically impossible for users to tell, and the advent of powdered fentanyl — a super-potent opioid, easily hidden and transported, and often cut and then passed off as a less powerful drug — has been a major factor.

Besides the thousands who have died, thousands more have been hospitalized or treated by paramedics. Some have suffered permanent harm.

Trudeau said possible government responses “haven’t yet been fully deployed.” They will make a difference without having to “immediately jump to the biggest, perhaps biggest, lever in our arsenal,” he said, in reference to decriminalization.

Though he didn’t rule out that something could change his mind.

“I was absolutely opposed to decriminalization of marijuana for many years and opposed to legalization. I am now opposed to decriminalization of hard drugs,” Trudeau said — and stopped, leaving the implication hanging.

Pushed for clarity, Trudeau said, “It is not something that I would be convinced is — or even could be — the panacea.” Other moves are “more likely to have a quicker and more significant impact in the coming years.”

The Liberal platform called the opioid epidemic “the greatest public health emergency” in generations, and included a promise to fund more in-patient rehab beds and expand supervised-consumption sites’ effectiveness by extending their hours, for instance.

The Liberals also promised to allow first-time, non-violent offenders to go to drug-treatment courts when charged with simple possession of banned drugs, “as opposed to just straight criminalization.” The provincial courts, which are already funded by the federal government, allow people to get help for addictions as an alternative to being jailed.

But Trudeau has heard calls to work on safer opioid supplies repeatedly. British Columbia’s provincial health officer made a request on Ottawa earlier this year. More recently, Trudeau heard it in a meeting with Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, whose city has applied for $6 million from Health Canada to allow for the safe distribution of the painkiller diamorphine, better known as heroin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2019.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


  1. I think he misused panacea. Panacea = a solution or remedy for all difficulties or diseases. Solution would have fit better? Keep it simple stoopid

  2. It’s funny how a country so fervently adopting a non-binary approach to gender adamantly insists & demands binary agreement to things like drugs & climate-change.
    “Gender cannot not binary” out of one side of the mouth, followed by;
    “Climate change and drugs cannot be binary – you’re either fully in to acceptance of our theories or you’re out”.
    Yes Virginia, there is a middle ground and opinions in between.

  3. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in favour of a modern stance on public health and support for people harmed by drugs. This was decades ago and now they have amongst the lowest overdose rates in Europe. It’s lower than Canada’s and America’s.

    Trudeau needs to be pressed for full decriminalization HARD if he’s ever going to eat his own words. Nobody is calling for legalization over decriminalization and he’s a worm pandering the “drugs are bad” narrative.

    • They didn’t really decriminalize all drugs, that’s inaccurate. In the 1990s they changed how they dealt with sentencing for certain small quantities. This misinformation needs to stop being spread, I know it’s Peter Chow’s favourite argument.
      If you’re caught with a small quantity (i.e. 1.5 weeks of personal use) then you’re arrested and brought to a small tribunal where you have the option of being fined, or doing a sort of rehab. Obviously most, but not all, chose rehab. If you’re caught with more, off to jail you go.
      Initially between certain ages, drug use & OD’s dropped significantly but then have since plateaued and not improved. You also have to remember that Portugal is a very different culture than Canada and doesn’t have the same socio-economic climate that we do. Comparing Canada & Portugal is far from an apples-to-apples comparison.
      Switzerland tried their hands are segmented decriminalization, again a vastly different culture, and most were a colossal failure.
      In contrast Canada still can’t get cannabis legalization right. Arrests are nearly as high as they were before. Opiate overdoses are higher than ever. Look at the US states that legalized first. Initially they saw 25% lower opiate OD rate but now it’s back to as high as it was before.
      If there’s one thing Canada can do, it’s mess up a concept that was mostly successful in other countries.

    • How is he a “worm pandering the “drugs are bad” narrative” when he was the one driving legalization of cannabis that was widely adopted (and still is) as a drug?
      Again with that binary thinking nonsense that was mentioned already.

      • Ugh, no – no they did not. That’s inaccurate misinformation you’re spreading. I understand Peter Chow is passionate about this topic and that’s been his go-to factoid, however he’s doing a disservice by overusing that inaccurate ‘fact’.

  4. And there you have it Greg Lefave and Christina Coutu Naccarato…way too advanced thinking for North America. Let’s just keep doing what we are doing with absolutely no results. Worry about that carbon tax tho. 🙄. I wish Greta worried about actual real world problems like the opioid crisis.

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