North America Advised to Ignore Federal Drug Laws

Oct 31, 2017

Following an unprecedented number of overdose related deaths in North America in 2016, the so called Opioid Crisis, in a report published on Oct. 2nd, the Global Commission on Drug Policy is urging the USA and Canada to take an unconventional stance in its fight to limit the harm of substance abuse: stop trying to change federal drug laws, and just ignore them.

In Canada and the USA, drug laws are made at the federal level, in Ottawa and in Washington, D.C. The GCDP has recommended that drugs be decriminalized at the state/province, municipal, and city levels so that those in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of legal consequences.

“Today, the consensus on which the international drug control regime was established more than fifty years ago is broken. A growing number of national or local authorities are moving away from a prohibitive attitude towards drugs and experimenting with different ways of managing their presence in society. These include the legal regulation of various substances, ending the criminalization of people who use drugs, and implementing—albeit not enough—harm reduction interventions and a large spectrum of therapies tailored to meet the needs, the will and the potential of everyone. Crucially, the discussion is based on evidence, and innovations are spreading across the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.” – Global Commission on Drugs

This is already a burgeoning process in cities like Vancouver, where storefronts for marijuana have been regulated since 2015, and the local police department has stated that it does not prioritize the enforcement of marijuana laws. In addition, other efforts within the province have been made to ignore parts of Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including providing safe spaces within social housing for tenants to use hard drugs, and creating overdose-prevention sites without required federal exemptions. Since December of 2016, 15 overdose-prevention sites have been opened across B.C.

Statistics gathered by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have revealed that 64,000 illicit drug related fatal overdoses took place in the USA in 2016, while Canada’s conservative estimates put its 2016 illicit drug-related deaths at 2,458. In B.C., where coroners track illicit-drug overdose deaths, it is predicted that in that province alone, at least 1,500 people will die from overdose in 2017. This opioid crisis is largely due to the lethal amounts of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and more recently carfentanil, appearing in illicit drugs with significantly more frequency; as of July, 2017, fentanyl was detected in 81% of all illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C.

It is predicted that the GCDP’s recommendations will gain more traction in Canada, where local governments are already putting its forgiveness-rather-than-permission suggestions into place in their fight against climbing drug-related deaths, while in the USA, most local police departments are still enforcing drug laws according to federal regulations.