Maritimers weigh in on drug decriminalization debate
HALIFAX -- The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling to decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs – receiving mixed reaction across the nation. While the group's intentions are to help drug users remain safe, roadblocks between harm reduction policies and politics seem to be ever-present.
Decriminalization of illicit drugs is a difficult idea for many to accept. However, the organization says it's time for a change.
"I think the tide is turning," said Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police president, Chief Const. Adam Palmer, during a press conference on Thursday.
Palmer hopes the organization's endorsement of the idea will turn into action.
"If you arrest somebody right now for possession of any kind of a drug, that's a very short-term action that doesn't provide any sort of solution," said Palmer.
Supporters say decriminalization would encourage people who are addicted to drugs to get help.
"If the person is still criminalized, there's still an inherent issue for them to come forward in the first place to seek help," says Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs executive director, Natasha Touesnard. "So, it destigmatizes the individual; along with it, it destigmatizes it on a societal level."
On Friday, the topic came up in the legislature on Prince Edward Island.
"Being addicted to a controlled substance isn't a crime and shouldn't be treated as such," said P.E.I. Green Party M.L.A., Steve Howard, on Friday.
"It's an important issue, and it's one we are willing to have the conversation with and with our chiefs of police here on the island," said P.E.I. Justice Minister Bloyce Thompson.
The New Brunswick government says it supports any movement that aims to prevent disease, injury or harm, and incorporates evidence in the approach. However, the province has not shown outright support for decriminalization.
Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia government has referred comment to the federal government. However, at the national level, there's been little appetite to make any kind of change.
"We have been very clear, we will not be legalizing hard drugs," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a federal election campaign rally in 2018.
Legalization and decriminalization are very different. In Portugal, illicit drugs were decriminalized in 2001. While dealers and traffickers continue to be subject to criminal law, personal possession is punishable by not much more than a fine – if that. And it's helping, Portugal currently has one of the lowest rates of illicit drug use in Europe.
"Portugal is a good model, but I think Canada has the ability to do better than Portugal," says Touesnard. "I believe we have progressive safe consumption sites, and OPS [overdose prevention sites], and now we have models of safe supply."
Meanwhile, the debate continues – but now with renewed police attention.