New petitions to decriminalize drugs started in House of Commons

Advocates say lives can be saved if the government moves to decriminalize drugs.


One argument for drug decriminalization states that the measure removes barriers to test contaminated drugs. Photo by Travis Lupick.


The push to decriminalize drugs in Canada continues amid the ongoing overdose crisis.

Advocates have started new petitions in the House of Commons calling for drug decriminalization. This covers substances other than cannabis, which became legal in October 2018.

One petition initiated by Ryan Painter of Victoria, B.C. urges the federal government to establish a task force to study the measure.

The petition recalls that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police shares the same position.

It can be recalled that on July 9, 2020, the CACP endorsed the decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs. 

Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer headed the CACP at the time. In a news release, Palmer said criminal enforcement should give way to an integrated health approach to drug use.

Dr. Bonnie Henry on board decriminalization

Earlier this year, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry released a report showing that drug decriminalization could stem the overdose crisis.

Henry titled the document “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC” .

A media release about the health officer’s report noted that in 2001 Portugal decriminalized drug possession for personal use.

People who agree with the Painter petition can sign on until December 12, 2020.

Randall Garrison, NDP MP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, agreed to sponsor the petition.

Decriminalization as antidote to overdose crisis

Another person from B.C. initiated the second petition in the House of Commons.

Joanne Hall of Nanaimo also suggested the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use. Hall’s petition urges the federal government to “reframe the overdose crisis in Canada as a health issue rather than a criminal issue”.

Advocates of drug decriminalization maintain that this policy removes barriers to safety measures such as the testing for contaminated substances.

As an example, health authorities link drugs laced with the powerful fentanyl substance to deaths.

 B.C. recorded 909 drug deaths since the start of 2020 up to July. In July alone, 175 people died due to illicit drug use.

Across the country, the federal government recorded 15,393 “apparent opioid-related deaths” between January 2016 and December 2019.

Also during the same period, health authorities tracked 19,377 opioid-related poisoning hospitalizations. This number excludes Quebec.

In addition, more than 21,000 suspected opioid-related overdoses occurred during the said time.

The Hall petition remains open for signatures until October 10, 2020. Paul Manly, Green MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith, agreed to sponsor the petition.

In media interviews Wednesday (September 2), Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated that the government is not inclined to decriminalize drugs.

Trudeau said that drug decriminalization is not a “silver bullet” solution to the overdose crisis.

Canadians currently enjoy a measure of protection against drug laws.

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which became official on May 4, 2017, provides an example.

The said law protects individuals who experience or witness drug overdoses from charges for possession under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The legislation intends to encourage people to report overdose incidents as a way of saving lives.

The law also protects anyone else present at the scene when first responders arrive.

However, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act does not provide legal protection for serious offences like production of drugs.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo


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