To combat the opioid crisis, we need to decriminalize drugs

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The pressure to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use has gained unstoppable momentum.

Includes a letter signed by 70 major organizations, a cause that launches a Challenge of the Charter, and the relations of a task force of experts appointed by the liberal government.

These three developments in just the past few weeks join a chorus of voices urging the federal government to pass a law to end the criminalization of possession of all drugs for personal use.

Newly appointed Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, Carolyn Bennett, will have to respond quickly to these numerous requests for reform, including one from last summer. Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. (In addition to decriminalization, there is a strong reason to argue legalization and regulation of all drugs but, at the moment, this seems like a bridge too far.)

The main problem is the opioid crisis. The statistics are awful. Since 2016, about 20,000 people they died of an overdose. COVID-19 has taken a tragic situation and made it much worse, from mitigation efforts that have led to social isolation and people using alone, to less available health services for those struggling with addiction. Opioid overdose deaths in Ontario were reported to be 75 percent higher in the spring of 2021 than the previous year.

Decriminalization is just one way to solve this drug scourge. Other strategies, such as a secure supply even for those who are addicted, they are essential. But decriminalization is very important and the claims of its positive effects are not theoretical.

About two decades ago, Portugal decriminalized the personal possession and use of all drugs. The results from his Start they were mostly positive. There has been no significant increase in personal use, children have been protected from consumption, and the country has not become a haven for addicts. HIV infections and drug overdoses have also decreased.

An election measure in Oregon to decriminalize drugs was passed in the November 2020 US election with strong support. Norway it is also canceling the penal sanctions for the consumption of illicit substances.

The case of decriminalizing drugs to combat the opioid scourge is compelling. But if we do, it also means that those who own them in limited quantities will not be subject to criminal penalties. (Drug trafficking would remain illegal.) The use of heroin, cocaine, etc. it would be legal and sanction-free. Are we ready for this? We should be.

The truth is, a fair number of people use a variety of drugs for pleasure. Consider Carl Hart.

Its story is compelling. As a black child, he undoubtedly accepted the idea that drugs were bad and dangerous. He is now Ziff Professor of Psychology at Columbia University with a global reputation as a drug researcher. But along the way, he suffered many racist incidents based on vicious stereotypes of black males and drugs. His fame increased further after him recently revealed who regularly uses heroin for pleasure and, according to him, to make him a better person.

Hart isn’t the only one holding up such views. Users can enjoy and consume drugs without problems. But, at one end of the harm spectrum, users may also fail to fulfill their responsibilities and die from an overdose at the other end. (We’re not even touching on the harms of legal drugs: alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis.) Not everyone enjoys the isolation from the turmoil of life that Dr. Hart now has. But he is confident in arguing that, however people who use drugs are characterized, criminalizing and forcing them to procure drugs illegally only makes matters worse.

We should decriminalize without delay – and with our eyes open to all the complexities that will be involved. Problem drug use won’t go away anytime soon. We should “allow but discourage” the removal of sanctions, seeking to reduce the harms of any harmful use. In the meantime, we can be sure of this: criminalization leaves a trail of misery in its wake.

WA Bogart is a retired law professor at the University of Windsor. He is the author of Off the Road: Legalize Drugs.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are solely the author’s. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and / or positions of iPolitics.

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