Though the upcoming legalization of cannabis and the upsurge of community-led initiatives for safe injection sites throughout the country has put Canada at the centre of the global drug policy debate, Canada’s efforts only address the tip of the iceberg as its own national overdose crisis continues and prohibition and treatment remain hotly debated on both the national and international stage.
In April of 2017, the Canada’s Drug Futures Forum met in Ottawa, bringing together 200 doctors, nurses, police, corrections workers, judges, lawyers, public servants, researchers, and drug users to address the challenges of drug use in Canada. After two days, the forum concluded that problematic substance use in Canada must be treated as a health issue rather than one of criminal justice.
“This Forum reflects and builds upon rapid drug policy reform in Canada, and makes a concerted effort to include divergent voices and positions on this issue”1
While 2016 saw the launch of a new Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy2, which enabled safe injection sites and focused on the public health aspect of the drug problem, the Canada’s Drug Futures Forum proposed that resources used for combating Canada’s drug crisis be withdrawn from prosecuting drug use and invested in health and social sectors instead. It also suggested that thoughtful regulation, including taking drug users’ thoughts into consideration when proposing new drug policies, was essential to overcoming the negative consequences of decriminalization.
Canada has become a world leader in harm reduction pertaining to drug use, but still faces challenges in providing safe-use drug kits, medication-assisted therapy, drug tests for users in sufficient quantities, and following through with creating a national Drug Policy Observatory that measures its progress with health and equity rather than by counting numbers of drugs seized or arrests made.