Pubdate: Fri, 03 Mar 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Justine Hunter
Page: S1


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is rejecting recommendations from
British Columbia's top health officials to widen the scope of his
government's decriminalization agenda beyond marijuana to help stem
the country's growing opioid crisis.

Mr. Trudeau will meet Friday with health experts in Vancouver to
discuss Canada's response to the rising toll of overdose deaths, the
latest in a series of meetings where he has engaged with British
Columbians on the front lines of the deadly opioid battle.

The Prime Minister quietly met with first responders in the Downtown
Eastside last December. At that time, British Columbia was tallying
its worst year for drug overdoses and in January, his government
promised $10 million in additional health funding for B.C. to boost
its response to a fentanyl-fuelled epidemic.

Top health officials in British Columbia are calling for a significant
change to Canada's existing drug policy to ensure people do not face
criminal charges for using illicit drugs. But Mr. Trudeau said that,
while he hopes to introduce legislation before the summer to legalize
marijuana, he is not prepared to decriminalize other illicit drugs.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone who is on the front
lines," he said. "I always listen very carefully to what they have to
say. But at the same time, I can absolutely confirm that we are moving
forward on a framework to regulate and control marijuana to protect
our kids and keep our communities safer from organized crime, and we
are not planning on including any other illicit substances in the
movement toward legalizing, controlling and regulating."

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has offered tacit support for
decriminalization: "We have recognized over the years that the war on
drugs has largely been a failure," he said last spring. "Let's put a
public-health lens on this."

However, Mr. Trudeau said that is a step he's not prepared to

The Prime Minister said those people he spoke with on the front lines
also want more resources to expand access to supervised-injection
sites - something he said he'd like to see funded by the province.

"When I sat down with the people in the [Downtown Eastside] in
December, they highlighted there is a challenge around opening hours
for safe consumption sites and they would like to be able to extend
those hours - and they need money to do that," Mr. Trudeau said.

"We're not going to tell B.C. how to spend money on a health crisis,
it's their jurisdiction, but certainly we hope the $10-million we are
sending to B.C. will allow for an improved response to this ongoing

The province has not yet allocated the money from Ottawa; it has
identified a number of priority areas that include more supervised
injection sites but also more policing, more access to opioid
substitution treatment, and more support for first responders and the
BC Coroners Service.

The Prime Minister was set to meet on Thursday evening with B.C.
Premier Christy Clark, and the agenda included the joint response to
the spike in overdose deaths.

British Columbia has been at the forefront of the opioid crisis that
is now evident in communities across the country.

B.C. recorded 922 deaths from drug overdoses last year. Many of those
deaths have been attributed to the rise of powerful synthetic opioids
including fentanyl and carfentanil. Even after B.C. declared a state
of emergency last spring and opened up access to Nalaxone, a
medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, the
death toll has been on the rise. In January, there were 116 apparent
overdose deaths from illicit drugs.

Mr. Trudeau said the federal government will continue to work with
B.C. to confront the rising toll of drug deaths, but he said the
regulation of marijuana stems from a different challenge.

He said the goal of decriminalization of pot is designed to divert
"billions of dollars" in revenue away from criminal organizations,
while at the same time making it harder for youth to purchase drugs.

"It's easier to buy a joint for a teenager than it is to buy a bottle
of beer. That's not right," Mr. Trudeau told reporters. "We know by
controlling and regulating we are going to make it more difficult for
young people to access marijuana."
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