The board of health in Canada’s most populous city decided Monday to push the federal government to decriminalize all drugs and is calling on Canadians to turn their recommendation into a national movement.
The board made the move after being presented with a report by Dr. Eileen de Villa, the medical officer of health, urging the city to call on the feds to treat drug use as a public health issue, rather than a criminal one.
Whilst Canada has big steps with recently making cannabis legal, the Toronto Board of health doesn’t think it goes far enough. Whilst the board of health isn’t pushing for complete legalization it backs up the growing movement that is calling for decriminalization.
Whilst selling and trafficking would still be illegal it would seek to decriminalize drug users, and in doing so would hopefully encourage them to seek treatment and end cycles of needless incarceration.
The recommendation by the board, with a unanimous vote of 10-0, is a massive endorsement. What a few years was a fringe movement now has mainstream political and scientific weight behind it.
Canada if it chooses to would not be the first country to decriminalize personal drug use. Portugal a country that has already implemented decriminalization has been seen as a model to follow and a success story for rational drugs policy.
Portugal completely decriminalized drugs in 2001 accompanied it with public health campaigns targeting addiction. Drug trafficking still a crime, but purchase or possession of small quantities is a civil offence (like a traffic ticket) rather than a crime. Offenders go to a meeting with social workers and receive educational resources and counseling; they may also receive small fines, community service, and suspension on right to practice for those in licensed professions who might endanger others.
17 years later and Portugal now has one of the lowest drug related yearly death statistics in the whole of Europe at around 2 deaths per million, in Canada the opioid crisis alone claim about 44 time that number. There’s little doubt that the drop in Portuguese overdoses has everything to do with it’s post 2001 drug policy.
A major barrier however may not be the Canadian people, but US pressure on Canada. The US already isn’t happy with the Canada wide legalization of cannabis even though some of it’s own states have decriminalized. Sharing a two borders, one with a country to the south that has little control over drug production, and one with a country that has decriminalized drugs to the north may not be in it’s best interests.
Canada though is a democracy and if level heads and rationality prevail it can move forward to treat personal drug use as a public health issue and not a criminal one. In doing so it can reduce harm to it’s citizens and a burden to it’s legal system. If decriminalization does eventually come we will look back on this week as a major turning point.
Whatever happens, the Toronto board of health have certainly forced a new look at the countries drug laws.