More Canadian cities push for decriminalization of illicit drugs

Jan 14, 2021

Following Vancouver City Council’s unanimous vote for drug decriminalization earlier in December, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson and Kamloops city council have also been pushing for decriminalization of illicit drugs.

In response to a news article on Twitter, Johnson said that NWT was “fighting a crack epidemic and losing terribly,” calling for decriminalization.

“Drug supply lines didn’t even flinch during COVID. Seems we’re more likely to run out of food and toilet paper before crack,” he posted from his Twitter account. “Time to recognise addictions as a public health issue and not a criminal one.”

In his interview with Cabin Radio, Johnson discussed the pervasive issue of crack cocaine use in the territory over the last decades.

“Crack use has been consistently rising in the territory and we have an addictions problem,” he said. “There’s just so much stigma around drug abuse. The amount of crack, it’s been consistently expanding into more and more communities. People are justing starting to really even be comfortable talking about the problem.”

However, according to NWT deputy chief public health officer Anthony Delli Pizzi, crack cocaine use has not reached “epidemic” proportions and therefore, decriminalization of illicit drugs isn’t a priority, adding that if the situation worsens, it could be considered.

“Decriminalization is something we can always keep on our radar and watch what other jurisdictions are doing and think about,” Delli Pizzi said in his interview with Cabin Radio, “but for right now, the NWT really is focusing on preventing harms from alcohol.”

Meanwhile, due to the opioid crisis, Kamloops has recorded surge in overdose deaths in recent months and City councillors have been discussing a motion urging the federal government to develop a nation-wide drug plan that involves decriminalizing illicit drugs.

Councillors Dale Bass, Sadie Hunter and Kathy Sinclair have urged their fellow politicians to pass a motion to urge the Government of Canada to declare the overdose crisis as a national public health emergency and to seek input from affected individuals to develop a national overdose action plan.

Specifically, the report that went to council in December stated that Kamloops City councillors are urging the federal government to implement “comprehensive supports and full consideration of reforms that other countries have used to significantly reduce drug-related fatalities and stigma, such as legal regulation of illicit drugs to ensure safe supply of pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs, and decriminalization for personal use.”

In addition, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has stated it agrees with the evidence suggesting that decriminalization for simple possession could be an effective way to improve public safety in relation to substance use, prompting the Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu to state that the government is now “deliberating” taking action on decriminalizing drugs.

The ongoing opioid crisis in B.C. has been exacerbated by the pandemic, with jurisdictions across Canada reporting increases in overdose deaths linked to opioids.