Pubdate: Fri, 16 Feb 2018
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Authors: James Hutt and Emilie Taman
Page: A11


Decriminalization is the right move , say James Hutt and Emilie

Canada's overdose crisis is getting worse, not better. In 2016, there
were 2,861 opioid-related deaths. Last year, there were more than 4,000.

All of them were preventable.

As the NDP gathers in Ottawa this weekend for its national policy
convention, many hope that this issue will be front and centre. NDP
leader Jagmeet Singh has already indicated that he favours the
decriminalization of all drugs - not because it's the popular but
because it's the right thing to do.

In just over two years, Canada has gone from one supervised injection
site (in Vancouver) to 30 countrywide. Almost every major city in
Canada now has a place where people can go to use drugs with clean
equipment and the guidance of health professionals trained in spotting
and responding to overdoses.

But still, the death count continues to rise. The threat of
criminalization remains a barrier to accessing these critical
harm-reduction programs.

We will not be able to end this crisis until we move drug use out of
the criminal justice system and into the healthcare system, where it

Supervised injection sites are a step in that direction, but alone
they are not enough.

They operate through a legal exemption that protects people from
arrest for possession while on the premises. However, that protection
ends at the door. The threat of criminal charges and all the negative
consequences that come with them remains very real.

Indeed, after Ottawa's first injection site opened, Ottawa police
launched "Project Mitigate," a drug trafficking investigation that
specifically targeted the neighbourhood surrounding the facility. Two
months of police resources were spent on policing drug users, most of
them homeless. Many drug users now avoid the supervised injection
site, finding it safer to use alone, despite the clear risk to their

These resources would undoubtedly have been better spent on
harm-reduction and treatment programs.

Fortunately, we can learn from models that have been adopted by other

Portugal, for example, decriminalized all drugs more than 15 years
ago. Citizens are permitted to carry up to the equivalent of 10 days'
worth of drugs for their personal use. The results have been dramatic.

Before decriminalization, 100,000 people - or one per cent of the
country's population - was addicted to heroin. By 2011, that number
had been halved.

By the fall of 2017, it had halved again. Portugal now has among the
lowest rates of drug mortality in all of Europe.

Every day we wait, more people die. In Ottawa alone, there are an
average of three to four overdoses each day. Those are just the ones
we know about. Many more people refuse to call 911 when they or
someone they know is overdosing, for fear of arrest.

Some Liberal party members have pushed for their party to consider
decriminalization beyond cannabis, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
has repeatedly dismissed it. His government's plan to legalize
cannabis is not enough to counter decades of disastrous and harmful
drug policy in Canada.

Here the NDP can distinguish itself by adopting and promoting the
evidence-based policies needed to slow the crisis.

This weekend, the NDP can choose to be the party with the courage to
adopt a policy that stands to save the lives of some of the most
marginalized people in our society. New Democrats can and should send
a strong signal that it's time to move beyond a flawed war on drugs
and instead promote policies that tackle the root causes of addiction
and value the intrinsic worth of all Canadians.

- ------------------------------------------------------------------

James Hutt is a member of Overdose Prevention Ottawa.  Emilie 
Taman teaches criminal law at the University of Ottawa faculty of common 
law. She is running for city council in Capital ward.  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt