Two of Canada’s three major political parties are considering removing criminal penalties for the personal possession and use of all drugs – a step that health and drug policy experts say is critical in treating problematic substance use as a health issue.
At a national convention in Ottawa last weekend, the federal New Democratic party passed a resolution to end the criminalization of the personal possession of all drugs, a move in line with leader Jagmeet Singh’s position that problematic drug use should be treated as a social-justice and health-care issue rather than a criminal matter.
The NDP is the first major Canadian party to advocate for decriminalization, and it appears likely that it will also become the first to include it in a party platform.
Under decriminalization, which is different from legalization, it would remain illegal to manufacture, sell and distribute illicit drugs.
NDP MP and health critic Don Davies, who helped prepare the resolution, said it’s clear that punitive responses to illicit drug use have not worked and must be replaced with prevention, education and treatment.
“Let’s quit wasting billions of dollars on a failed, criminalized, stigmatized approach to drug use that is misconceived and ineffective,” Mr. 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.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal government will legalize the recreational use of marijuana this year, has repeatedly said his party is not considering the decriminalization of any other drugs. However, the national Liberal caucus has signaled an appetite for change with a resolution to be considered at that party’s national policy convention in Halifax in April.