Canada won’t just be the first developed nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The country is inching towards a far more progressive step to heed a health issue: Substance abuse of illicit drugs.
Last weekend, at a national convention in the Canadian capital Ottawa, the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) passed a resolution to end the criminalization of the personal possession of all drugs, The Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday.
It must be noted, that decriminalization is not legalization. The manufacturing, selling and distributing of illicit harmful drugs such as cocaine or heroin will remain illegal in Canada.
NDP’s leader Jagmeet Singh has its stance positioned in seeing that problematic drug use should be treated as a social-justice and health-care issue rather than a criminal matter.
Don Davies, the NDP MP who helped prepare the resolution, said punitive responses to illicit drug use have proved to be futile.
“Let’s quit wasting billions of dollars on a failed, criminalized, stigmatized approach to drug use that is misconceived and ineffective,” Davies said in an interview.
“I’m proud of our party for taking that bold step, for taking an evidence-based approach to this issue.”
Davies said for such decriminalization model to work in Canada, access to treatment would have to be much more accessible. He said there is “an appalling lack of it in the country.”
Meanwhile, the national Liberal caucus has also signaled a change in a resolution to be considered at that party’s national policy convention in Halifax in April.
Its resolution urged the Canadian government to “treat drug abuse as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations.”
The Liberal’s resolution is a far cry from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s previous statements, who repeatedly said that his Liberal party is not considering the decriminalization of any other drugs.
One of the Liberal party’s advocates to decriminalize all drugs is MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith for Beaches-East York in Toronto.
While praising his party’s forward moves in reducing barriers to launching supervised consumption sites and overturning a Conservative ban on heroin-assisted treatment, he said more needs to be done in an interview this week.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were, but do I think we need to go further? Yes, without question,” he said.
Conservatives Remain Unchanged
Nevertheless, the Conservative Party of Canada remains unchanged.
The Conservatives are not even in line over what is happening in Canada in terms of legalizing recreational marijuana. While they have entertained the idea of reducing marijuana possession from a criminal to ticketable-offence, the Conservatives have never considered extending that policy further.
Last year, 4,000 Canadians died from opioid overdoses. In the western province of British Columbia, at least 1,422 people died of illicit drug overdose deaths, with fentanyl being a factor in 81 percent of those deaths, The Globe and Mail reported estimates.
Decriminalization is also a Canadian demand. On Tuesday, rallies were held across Canada as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis, asking for immediate decriminalization.