Health Minister Rejects Calls for Broader Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

Article by Tonda MacCharles, The Toronto Star

Health minister rejects calls for broader decriminalization of illicit drugs A lot more evidence would be needed before a broader approach is taken, Jane Philpott says.

The federal Liberal government will soon move to eliminate criminal law consequences for marijuana use but Health Minister Jane Philpott turned aside calls Wednesday to decriminalize other illicit drugs in the face of an opioid crisis.

After an impassioned speech Wednesday to a drug policy conference on how she is personally “fixated” on ending opioid overdose deaths, Philpott said the government would not loosen criminal laws on any other controlled substances.

Philpott first said it wasn’t solely up to her because she works with ministers of justice and public safety on drug policy. Finally, she suggested the only way to support a broader health approach to other drugs is to gather “a lot more evidence” through pilot projects.

“Basically all I can say is you’re absolutely right, that’s part of the challenge,” said Philpott. “That’s going to take a whole lot of work on the part of a lot of people.”

She was more emphatic afterwards in an interview with the Star.

“We do not have plans for legalization and regulation of any other controlled substances other than cannabis, but having said that we are wanting to make sure that we respond to a very serious public health crisis. And if it’s necessary in a medically-controlled setting for people to have access to clean medications that they might otherwise purchase on the street then there needs to be broader opportunity for those evidence-based treatments.”

Philpott said there is already a range of “medical-assistance” or substitution treatment options “which could be used more” in the response to the opioid epidemic, but she said many health professionals are not yet comfortable with those.

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