Apr 4

Vancouver Mayor Calls for Decriminalization to Combat Overdose Deaths

Mayor Robertson Concerned About Overdose Deaths

Following the release of the number of overdose deaths across the country, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is calling for the decriminalization of personal drug use and possession. He has long looked at drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. His recent announcement comes on the heels of learning that the opioid overdose crisis is killing an average of one person a day in his city. “This is not getting better and it’s time for more disruptive and more innovative action to save lives” said Robertson during an interview on March 28th. The Mayor did not say police should ignore petty drug use, however did say he was in discussions with Chief of Police Adam Palmer. The Vancouver Police Department stated they have a “progressive drug policy that does not target individual drug users unless that drug use interferes with public safety”.


How Could Decriminalization in Vancouver Work?

Decriminalization is a hot button topic right now. However, the terms decriminalization and legalization are often used interchangeably despite important differences. Decriminalization means no criminal penalties would apply to those found with small amounts of illicit drugs, however may be subject to an administrative penalty such as a fine. The manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs remains illegal and unregulated under decriminalization.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, as well as the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition recommend the idea of a “sanctuary city” as a way for cities to de facto decriminalize personal drug use and possession. Trialing a concept like this could be perfect for BC as the province has often been an innovator in drug policy. It has been almost 2 years since the April 16, 2016 declaration of a public health emergency in BC due to the amount of overdoses and deaths. Since then, as the Mayor said, the opioid crisis has only worsened. As the number of overdose deaths for 2017 are being tallied, it seems set to out pace 2016 by 30%. An estimated 4000 Canadians lost their lives to overdoses, almost double motor-vehicle crash fatalities. Nearly 10% of these overdose deaths happened in Vancouver. It is evident something needs to change as the current tactics have done nothing to slow the death rate. If you have a friend or family member who needs help, please contact our specialist.



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