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Canadian Public Health Association

CPHA encouraged by municipal calls for decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs



The Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) commends the City of Toronto’s call for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. As demonstrated in CPHA’s 2017 position statement, criminalization of those who use illegal psychoactive drugs is unsuccessful and a more robust public health approach is needed immediately. Toronto is the second Canadian city to officially call for decriminalization, following Vancouver in March and Simcoe Muskoka in July.

“Every day, we see clear and irrefutable evidence that the threat of criminal justice does not deter people from using illegal drugs,” said CPHA executive director Ian Culbert. “Before more lives are lost to drug use, the federal government should migrate to a public health approach to manage all psychoactive substances.”

The use of illegal psychoactive substances in Canada persists despite ongoing efforts to limit their consumption. Criminalization of those who use these substances remains the principle tool to control their use and is unsuccessful. Both Vancouver and Toronto are seeing record numbers of overdose-related deaths, with 335 and 303 respectively in 2017 — nearly double 2015 rates.

“The Government of Canada has taken important action to address the opioid crisis, including approving more supervised consumption sites, increasing access to naloxone and strengthening prescription monitoring programs,” said Culbert. “It is imperative that the federal government, in collaboration with others at the regional levels, continue to expand and strengthen a public health approach to manage all psychoactive substances and reduce legal barriers that cause harm to individuals who use drugs.”

In 2014, CPHA published a discussion paper that closely examined alternatives to the unsuccessful prohibition and criminalization measures. For example, Portugal has developed a unique approach to the management of illegal psychoactive substances that is based on the recognition that illegal substance use is a health problem. As such, the possession and use of illegal drugs remains illegal, but the sentencing for this use does not result in criminal conviction. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has provided an extensive profile of the development of drug policy in Portugal.

CPHA’s Recommendations
CPHA calls on the federal government to work with provinces and territories to:

  • Decriminalize the possession of small quantities of currently illegal psychoactive substances for personal use and provide summary conviction sentencing alternatives, including the use of absolute and conditional discharges;
  • Decriminalize the sales and trafficking of small quantities of IPS by young offenders using legal provisions similar to those noted above;
  • Develop probationary procedures and provide a range of enforcement alternatives, including a broader range of treatment options, for those in contravention of the revised drug law;
  • Develop the available harm reduction and health promotion infrastructure such that all those who wish to seek treatment can have ready access;
  • Provide amnesty for those previously convicted of possession of small quantities of illegal psychoactive substances; and
  • Provide expanded evidence-informed harm reduction options that include, for example, improved access to supervised consumption facilities and drug purity testing services.

Furthermore, CPHA recognizes and supports the right of Indigenous communities to respond to psychoactive substance use according to their traditional justice and/or cultural protocols.

For more information contact:
Emma Mallach, Communications Manager
Canadian Public Health Association
Telephone: 613.725.3769, ext. 160

About the Canadian Public Health Association
Founded in 1910, the Canadian Public Health Association is the independent voice for public health in Canada with links to the international community. As the only Canadian non-governmental organization focused exclusively on public health, we are uniquely positioned to advise decision-makers about public health system reform and to guide initiatives to help safeguard the personal and community health of Canadians and people around the world. We are a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association. Our members believe in universal and equitable access to the basic conditions which are necessary to achieve health for all.

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