Pubdate: Tue, 14 Nov 2017
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: James Wood
Page: 10


Alberta's NDP government has no position on decriminalizing hard drugs
but is open to the conversation around the issue, associate health
minister Brandy Payne said Monday.

As Ottawa moves toward legalizing recreational cannabis next year,
recently elected federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has called for the
decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs to help combat
the escalating problems with opioids.

Speaking to reporters, Payne said Alberta has not looked at the idea
of decriminalization, noting that the designation of drugs as legal or
illegal is a federal responsibility.

But she expressed support for Singh raising the issue.

"I think that when we're dealing with an opioid crisis and a type of
emergency that we've never seen before, that it's important to examine
all of the different options," Payne said after delivering greetings
at the Issues of Substance conference being put on in Calgary by the
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA).

"That said, we're seeing with the move toward legalized cannabis that
there's a whole host of challenges of moving an illicit market into a
legal market. So, at this point, it's hard to say."

Singh has said decriminalization of possession would be part of a
renewed emphasis on treating addictions as a health and social issue,
rather than a criminal matter. He has advocated for a model similar to
Portugal, which did not fully decriminalize all drugs in all
circumstances but removed the application of criminal law on personal
possession for limited amounts, while offering education and social

The Issues of Substance conference, held every two years, brings
together addiction workers, health professionals, researchers, policy
makers and those personally affected by addictions.

The conference is occurring during National Addictions Awareness Week
and comes as Canada grapples with an epidemic of addiction and death
connected to opioids. From Jan. 1 to Aug. 12, 2017, there were 315
deaths related to the opioid fentanyl, compared with 199 in the same
period a year earlier.

CCSA CEO Rita Notarandrea said the opioids crisis, the oncoming
legalization of marijuana in 2018 and the continuing problem of
binge-drinking among young adults are major issues the three-day
conference is addressing.

She said that when issues such as decriminalization are discussed, it
is important to consider all available evidence. Notarandrea noted
that the actions taken by Portugal beyond decriminalization are often

"The other key, huge component of it is the treatment system that they
put into place. That, to me, is the really relevant component of
that," she said in an interview.

University of Calgary professor Rebecca Haines-Saah, a public-health
advocate for decriminalization, said it is significant that a leader
of a national political party such as Singh is talking about

She said in an interview at the CCSA conference that beyond the legal
repercussions, the criminal aspect of drug possession contributes to
the stigma that is "the biggest barrier we know to treatment and recovery."

"Everyday Canadians are starting to see the magnitude of this and that
these solutions are doing the right thing for human reasons and for
health reasons. I think we still have a long way to go," said
Haines-Saah, a professor in the department of Community Health
Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine.

"There are different solutions that can implemented, but I think
having a national conversation about it is important."
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