Motion to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs set to return to Winnipeg city hall

A Winnipeg city councillor plans to bring back a motion to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs after a similar one was narrowly defeated at city hall earlier this year.

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge – East Fort Garry) wants Winnipeg to adopt a four-pillar approach to harm reduction. The councilor’s motion also calls on the city to support any community organization that applies to the federal government for an exemption from the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

“City hall should be in solidarity with the community-based organizations that are there for people who are living with addictions that are experiencing the harms of the drug poisoning crisis,” Rollins said in an interview Thursday.

It’s an approach several cities and provinces are taking and one advocates in Winnipeg are hoping to see here.

“Decriminalization allows people to carry their personal use which is extremely important,” said Arlene Last-Kolb, co-founder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba.

Ever since her son Jessie died of a fentanyl overdose in 2014, Last-Kolb has been working tirelessly as an advocate on harm reduction.

She’s in the midst of a cross-Canada campaign calling on the federal government for a safe supply and supports jurisdictions across Canada seeking exemptions from Ottawa to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs.

“I have hope and I have faith and I hope that they will support all harm reduction measures, decriminalization, safe consumption sites and of course a safe supply,” Last-Kolb said.

The new version of Rollins’ motion asks councilors to support the four-pillar approach endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police which includes safe consumption sites, decriminalization, safe supply and diversion and treatment. Something Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), who co-signed the earlier motion, said he was lacking the first time around.

“This is not a criminal matter,” Chambers said. “It is a health matter. The focus should be on getting the assistance that individuals who are addicted need.”

Rollins drafted a second motion on the issue after an earlier push to get Winnipeg to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs was narrowly defeated in an 8-8 vote at city hall.

Health Canada has yet to grant exemptions to a number of other jurisdictions that have applied.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, who opposed the earlier motion but hasn’t looked at the new one in detail wants more input from city staff on the federal program.

“I think it is an important issue,” Bowman said Thursday. “I’ve indicated for some time I welcome discussion and debate on this. For me, I’d like to see an administrative report.”

Rollins acknowledged municipalities can’t act alone but said Winnipeg can play a role.

“I think it’s something the city can easily get behind. It’s a playbook that’s already out there and made,” Rollins said. “Time to get to work.”

Rollins said the motion will be introduced next month at a meeting of the Executive Policy Committee.

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