Hard drugs in Canada | Should they be decriminalized?

The government of British Columbia, after launching a pilot project to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of hard drugs, requested – and obtained in recent days – the recriminalization of their use in public spaces. Is this a sign of the failure of this initiative? Did we go too fast? Too far ?

What is this pilot project?

British Columbia is the epicenter of Canada’s opioid crisis, with more than 2,500 deaths in 2023.

The province’s New Democratic government has undertaken a process to find other ways to stem this scourge, which is based on the principle that drug addicts are not criminals, but people who suffer from health problems.

It is in this spirit that the province asked the federal government to approve a pilot project decriminalizing the possession of a small quantity of drugs: 2.5 grams or less. The illicit substances targeted are cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy and opioids, including fentanyl, heroin and morphine.

When did it come into force?

January 31, 2023. Lasting three years, it is the result of work which mobilized scientists from across Canada and which obtained numerous support, notably that of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Its goal is to see how a change in approach could alleviate the addiction and overdose crisis, by reducing the stigmatization of victims, avoiding sending people who are not bandits to prison, and allowing for better accompaniement.


The DD Marie-Ève ​​Morin, family doctor working in mental health and addiction at La Licorne clinic, in Montreal

“I think we need to stop the big traffickers, the drug producers, the clandestine laboratories. But consumers? It’s not criminal to be a drug addict,” says the DD Marie-Ève ​​Morin, family doctor working in mental health and addiction at La Licorne clinic, in Montreal.

“The police have other things to do than arrest people with 1 gram of coke, unless they are committing a crime. »

Why is the province moving backwards?

On April 26, British Columbia said it was working with Health Canada to change its decriminalization policy, to end drug use in hospitals, transportation and parks. Ottawa accepted this request on May 6.

However, the use of these drugs will remain permitted in private spaces. It is therefore not a recriminalization of simple possession, but a limitation of its uses.

While we have compassion for those trying to kick their addiction, we do not accept that public disorder puts communities at risk.

David Eby, Premier of British Columbia

You should know that the province had already tried to make drug consumption in public spaces illegal last fall, but its law was blocked by the courts, which granted a temporary injunction, extended until June.

Should we conclude that decriminalization is a failure?

According to addiction specialists consulted by The Press, it would be simplistic to claim that decriminalization is the sole cause of the problems that concern the Eby government. It is also too early to draw conclusions from this initiative.

“Long before decriminalizing, there was quite a bit of consumption in public places, in British Columbia, then elsewhere,” notes the DD Julie Bruneau, doctor at the University of Montreal Hospital Center (CHUM) and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Addiction Medicine. “The cause of consumption which seems more problematic, we must probably look elsewhere: the housing crisis, post-COVID and the whole lack of services. »

An opinion shared by the DD Marie-Ève ​​Morin.

Decriminalization, for me, is the tree that hides the forest. Because that’s not the reason for the current situation. Things were bad before. We will have to attack the root of the problem, that is to say housing, mental health, chronic pain, poverty. It is not a question of criminalizing or not criminalizing.

The DD Marie-Ève ​​Morin

Jean-François Mary, director of Cactus Montreal, adds: “Front-line groups, user associations and most harm reduction experts all agree: decriminalization is a first step, but it This is not how we will stop the flow of deaths. »


Jean-François Mary, director of Cactus Montreal

Why make a big deal out of it?

Because it’s a hot topic. The issues surrounding hard drugs and addiction provoke emotional reactions, which are very complex because we do not really know how to combat this scourge successfully.

These questions are therefore fertile ground for division, particularly between more conservative currents, who associate drug consumption with criminality, and more liberal currents, who see drug dependence as an illness.

The leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Pierre Poilievre, thus made it a hobby horse, notably through his interventions in the House of Commons on April 30, where he called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “crazy”.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said he was opposed to a pilot project of this type in Toronto.

Should Quebec take inspiration from British Columbia?

According to the DD Julie Bruneau, there are discussions on this subject in Montreal. The regional director of public health of Montreal, the DD Mylène Drouin has also spoken out in favor of diversion of simple possession of drugs in Montreal.

“Do we want to go in that direction? I think it must be part of high-level strategic thinking and with the means to say: what are we doing with the opioid crisis in Canada? nuance the DD Bruneau. It’s certainly one part of the puzzle, but I don’t think we can go about it piecemeal. »


Chantal Montmorency, director of the Quebec Association for the Promotion of the Health of People who Use Drugs

Like Jean-François Mary, of Cactus Montreal, Chantal Montmorency, director of the Quebec Association for the Promotion of the Health of People Using Drugs, believes that we should go further, by not limiting the quantities or types of drugs, for example.

“It is important to decriminalize the person who uses, but also those around them, in particular the person who may sell drugs. And decriminalizing only small quantities is like telling people: go to the convenience store instead of going to Costco, then pay more, and get into trouble by buying junk. »

Learn more

  • 40,000
    Number of opioid-related deaths in Canada since 2016

    Source: Government of Canada

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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