Last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that marijuana will be nationally legal as of October 17, 2018. Despite the late delivery on one of his most notable campaign promises, the upcoming legalization has sparked conversation about whether Canada should legalize all drugs. Toronto and Vancouver are the first to support the idea. Despite having safe injection sites, top health officials in Canada’s wealthiest and most populous cities say decriminalization at least is needed to prevent further drug-related tragedy.
Opioids were responsible for nearly 4,000 deaths in Canada last year, according to federal data. In her comments to The Globe & Mail on July 9, Toronto’s chief medical health officer Dr. Eileen de Villa argues that many of these deaths would have been preventable by total narcotic legalization. She also called for a federally appointed task force to explore this idea, as illegal substances are a federal offence, as per Canada’s Controlled Drugs & Substances Act.
Last March, Vancouver was the first city to make an official recommendation to decriminalize the use and possession of all drugs to the Canadian government. However, their support of legalization has a longer history. In 2016, Dr. de Villa’s B.C.-based counterpart Dr. Patricia Daly stated “Personally, I think we need to be thinking about the decriminalization of drug use and perhaps having legal options for all drug users, including opioid drug users, so that they don’t have to go to the illicit drug market for their addiction.” Several other high-ranking health officials in BC have expressed similar sentiments since.
The Canadian government is not open to the radical idea at this time, but it is one they should seriously consider. The benefits of decriminalization and legalization are undeniable. Portugal is the perfect example of this. In 2001, they were the first country in the EU to decriminalize all drug use and possession and instate a thorough public health model for addiction treatment. Since then, only 1% of the population is addicted to hard drugs and merely 10% has come into contact with drugs period. Furthermore, Portugal has the lowest HIV infection rate in the EU, well below 10%. All of these numbers are steadily dropping on an annual basis too.
Norway has since followed suit. In 2017, the country became the first Scandinavian nation to decriminalize all drug offences and create a solid public health scheme for addiction treatment and alternative prison sentencing. This was originally proposed in a parliamentary bill from 2006, but instated after the most recent data found that drugs were responsible for 226 deaths in the country. They are already beginning to see results like Portugal’s.
Though numbers don’t lie, the effects of liberalized drug laws are culturally prevalent as well. As a Canadian with Portuguese family, I have seen the stark difference. In my home country, Canada, I have become aware of the strong stereotyping and stigmatization of drug use, mental health issues and addiction. I have seen it affect friends. Whether from their families or society at large, the taboo makes proper education and treatment difficult for even the most privileged and dedicated individuals. Yet, my Portuguese family sees it differently. And it is not just them. The majority of people I have met, from big cities and small villages alike, seem to have come to a consensus that drugs are not the problem. Rather, they are a symptom of a larger issue that can be solved with access to proper education and resources.
The legal status of drugs remains a hot topic at the moment. As Canada becomes more liberal, our neighbours to the south continue to wage an increasing war on drugs. We can only hope that the Canadian government considers future generations and their options and continues moving toward the model proven to work.
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Aleem, Z. (2015, February 11). 14 Years After Decriminalizing All Drugs, Here’s What Portugal Looks Like. In Mic. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://mic.com/articles/110344/14-years-after-portugal-decriminalized-all-drugs-here-s-what-s-happening#.dmoZWguC5
Flood, R. (2017, December 15). Norway becomes first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs in historic vote. In The Independent. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/norway-parliament-drugs-decriminalise-recreational-cocaine-heroin-marijuana-a8111761.html
Hauen, J. (2018, July 9). Toronto’s chief medical officer calls for decriminalization of all drugs for personal use. In The Globe & Mail. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-torontos-chief-medical-officer-calls-for-decriminalization-of-all/
Lupick, T. (2018, July 9). Toronto joins Vancouver in recommending Canada decriminalize all drugs. In The Georgia Straight. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from https://www.straight.com/news/1100301/toronto-joins-vancouver-recommending-canada-decriminalization-all-drugs