Canada will debate the decriminalization of all drugs

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The New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada is proposing a federal bill to decriminalize drug possession nationwide. The private member’s bill, Bill C-216, will be debated in the spring.

“It’s time to truly end the failed war on drugs,” Gord Johns, the NDP MP behind the bill, told Filter. He hopes his fellow MPs across the political spectrum will take action to improve the health of Canadians, rather than trying to garner votes. “This is a health issue and I ask all parliamentarians to do the right thing.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh publicly supported the motion.

A bill in 3 parts

The bill has three parts. The first is the simple decriminalization of drug possession. Gord Johns argues that decades of criminalization and the greater presence of extremely potent drugs, as well as lack of access to harm reduction services, are fueling overdose deaths.

Between January 2016 and June 2021, 24,626 “apparent deaths due to opioid toxicity” were recorded in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Between April and June last year, there were 1,720, or 19 a day. “Decriminalization is a key part of a smart, effective and scientifically proven strategy to combat the overdose epidemic,” said Gord Johns.

The bill also provides for the voiding of criminal records for possession charges, removing some of the barriers that stand in the way of returning to employment or housing.

The third part is the regulation of substances. It would mandate the creation of a “national strategy to address the harm caused by problematic substance use by promoting a comprehensive approach to public health,” the bill reads.

Its functions include creating easy access to a safe supply, reducing the stigma associated with substance use through various programs, and implementing prevention programs that address factors – social and economic, among others – that lead to problematic drug use.

A national approach would be fairer than the current situation, said Brittany Graham, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) to Filter. “It also makes things much simpler when there is the same rule across the country.”

According to Brittany Graham, the current bill has several shortcomings, including what would be a national possession threshold for each drug, what would constitute trafficking, with some users needing to sell small amounts of drugs to make ends meet, or the impasse on the problem of adulterated substances as long as they are not distributed by risk reduction structures.

In the last Canadian election, every major political party in the country acknowledged, at least tacitly, that prosecuting people for possession was the wrong way to go. However, this does not bode well for the success of this bill.

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