Toronto health board to vote on plan to decriminalize small amounts of illegal drugs

Possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in Toronto should be decriminalized immediately, according to a plan recommended by the city’s medical health official.

Dr. Eileen de Villa’s recommendation, released Monday, will see the city board of health vote on whether to ask the federal government to exempt all city residents from criminal charges for having small amounts of illegal drugs under the Controlled Substances and Drugs Act. that governs the rest of the country.

De Villa’s plan will be presented to the city’s board of health on December 6.

“The status quo approach to the drug poisoning crisis is not working,” begins the report released Monday. “There is an urgent need for a comprehensive public health approach to drug policy that removes structural barriers to medical care and social services, provides alternatives to the supply of toxic drugs, and improves and expands services to improve health and safety. well-being of Toronto communities. . “

If passed, the measure would be the next step in a public and behind-the-scenes push over the past five years to treat drug addiction and overdoses as a health crisis and respond in a way that research shows reduces harm. to people and people. community in general.

The plan already has the support of the Toronto police.

“We agree that the current approach to controlling drug use does not support safe communities or promote the health of people who use drugs,” Chief Jim Ramer wrote in a letter accompanying the report. “The decriminalization of the simple possession of all drugs, combined with the expansion of prevention, harm reduction and treatment services, is a more effective way to address the harm to public health and public safety associated with drug use. substances “.

Toronto would be only the second city to apply for an exemption under the Act; Vancouver has already requested it, as has BC. An exemption for Toronto would not require council or province approval.

The Act contains a section that allows the federal minister of health to exempt “any person or class of persons” or any controlled substance from any or all of the rules of the Act if it is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or if it is found in the public interest “.

De Villa recommends that the city board of health instruct you to apply to Health Canada by the end of 2021.

It is up to the municipalities to decide how to apply, and it is also possible that cities may request different thresholds for the possession of various drugs, depending on their potency and use.

In Vancouver, that has led advocates to worry that the city’s enforcement thresholds are too low based on actual usage. In his May 2021 proposal, he requested exemptions for possession of opioids up to 2 grams, cocaine up to 3 grams, crack cocaine up to 1 gram, and amphetamines up to 1.5 grams to be exempt.

Toronto Public Health has yet to recommend personal limits, and De Villa recommended an additional task force to determine a “made in Toronto” solution.

The exemptions requested by both Toronto and Vancouver would leave substantial ownership, including merchants and distributors, subject to criminal penalties.

The city reported 531 overdose deaths in 2020, a number that may be underestimated, well above any other year since 2015 and 81 percent more than the year before when the total was 293.

The health board report said paramedics responded to 5,024 suspected opioid overdose calls in the first 10 months of 2021, including 289 death-related calls, a 40 percent increase from last year.

January saw the highest number of fatal calls, 38, in Toronto’s history. And on May 5, the city recorded the highest number of deaths on record in a single day after five people were suspected of having succumbed to overdoses.

More to come

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto reporter covering city hall and city politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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