July 12, 2020

Canadian Chiefs of Police: Decriminalize Drug Possession

July 12, 2020
Canada looks at drug decriminalization

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) is calling for the decriminalization of possession of all illicit drugs for personal use.

Adam Palmer, Vancouver Police Chief and CACP president, said addiction issues should not be handled by the police.

“Bottom line is, addiction issues should best be handled by a health care system, not a criminal justice system,” Palmer said, per Canada’s City News.

Canada legalized cannabis across the country in 2018.

Palmer added that decriminalization can result in fines and warnings, but should also include a healthcare approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.

According to the CACP report, released July 9, 2020 and titled “Decriminalization for Simple Possession of Illicit Drugs: Exploring Impacts on Public Safety & Policing,” people who experience substance use disorder face repercussions, including criminal records, stigma, risk of overdose, and the transmission of blood-borne diseases.

Overdose Crisis In Canada

The police chiefs’ announcement coincides with data about Canada’s westernmost province of British Columbia (population 5.1 million), indicating a record number of overdose fatalities in May 2020 with 170 deaths.  Vancouver Island has also been hit hard by Canada’s drug overdose crisis.  

The goal of the police chiefs is to decrease potential harms by removing mandatory criminal sanctions and replacing them with responses that promote access to harm reduction and treatment services.

“While law enforcement continues to be required to stop those putting poisoned and illegal substances on our streets, the traditional role of frontline policing has fundamentally shifted to harm reduction when interacting with people experiencing addiction or mental health issues,” Chief Constable Palmer said in a press release. “Frequently, our officers are the point of first contact and the ones who will assist individuals in accessing appropriate services and pathways of care.”

The police chiefs are suggesting innovative approaches to “disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada” rather than resorting to arrests for simple possession of illicit drugs, which has proven to be ineffective.

Supervised Consumption Site in Canada

Supervised consumption sites and safe supply is mentioned in the report as possible elements to enact decriminalization and supervise addiction, which evidence suggests is an effective way to reduce the public health and safety harms associated with substance use.

“Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health-, rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results,” Palmer said.

British Columbia’s Premier, John Horgan, approves.

 “Anything that we can do to reduce the dependence and to free up law enforcement to do other things, I support,” Horgan said.

“But this fundamental question that Adam Palmer, the Vancouver Police Department chief and head of the national chiefs, outlined today, it’s where I believe we need to go,” Horgan added.

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