In a new report, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police calls on federal lawmakers to decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs for personal use. CACP President Chief Constable Adam Palmer told the CBC that current drug possession laws have “proven do be ineffective” and do “not save lives.”
“The CACP recognizes substance use and addiction as a public health issue. Being addicted to a controlled substance is not a crime and should not be treated as such. We recommend that Canada’s enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.” – Palmer to the CBC
The research for the paper was conducted by the CACP’s Special Purpose Committee on the Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs. The paper points out that between January 2016 and December 2019, more than 15,000 Canadians died as a result of an opioid-related overdose and between January and December of last year, 3,823 opioid-related deaths occurred, of which 94 percent were accidental.
“Currently, people who experience substance use disorder face repercussions including criminal records, stigma, risk of overdose and the transmission of blood-borne diseases,” the report says. The aim is to decrease these harms by removing mandatory criminal sanctions, often replacing them with responses that promote access to harm reduction and treatment services.”
The report suggests establishing more supervised drug consumption sites throughout Canada, of which there are already 49, up from 29 in March of last year. The report says that more sites would lead to a decrease in fatal overdoses, and increased contact between health and social services and “marginalized clientele.”
The CACP paper also supports providing a “secure, and predictable supply of pharmaceutical-grade opioids for people who use drugs” as most overdoses in the country are tied to illegally obtained fentanyl.
The report points to the model utilized in Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalized. Following the policy shift in 2001, the country has experienced a decline in teen drug use and in rates of injection drug use. The country also experienced a dramatic decrease in drug-related deaths from 80 in 2001 to 16 in 2012. Portugal’s reforms also reduced the number of people arrested and sent to criminal court for drug offenses – from over 14,000 in 2000, to around 5,500 to 6,000 per year. The Portuguese prison population also declined, from 44 percent in 1999, to just under 21 percent in 2012, according to Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
In a statement to the CBC, Canadian Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister David Lametti said the federal government “remains committed to advancing evidence-based responses to help reverse the trend of opioid overdose deaths and other substance-related harms in Canada.”