Canadian Police Chiefs Call For Decriminalization Of Low-Level Drug Possession

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A group of Canadian police chiefs is calling on the federal government to decriminalize the possession of all drugs for personal use in a committee report issued this month. The report from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) also recommends that an integrated approach to drug addiction be established to address the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis. Canada legalized the use of cannabis by adults and established a regulatory framework for recreational marijuana commerce in 2018.

“We must adopt new and innovative approaches if we are going to disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada,” reads the report from a CACP committee tasked with exploring the impact of drug decriminalization on policing and public safety in 2018.

“Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective,” the committee continues in its report. “Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results.”

Police Chiefs Endorse A New Approach To Addiction

The CACP is a non-profit organization that represents about 1,300 police chiefs from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, transportation, and military police departments from throughout Canada. Chief Constable Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department, who serves as president of the group, said that a new approach to illegal drug use and abuse can save lives.

“The CACP recognizes substance use and addiction as a public health issue,” Palmer said. “Being addicted to a controlled substance is not a crime and should not be treated as such.”

Instead, the police chiefs believe that a partnership between social services, police, health care providers, and other government agencies would more effectively address drug use and addiction than criminalization and law enforcement. Police would then be able to focus on the manufacturing, importation, and distribution of illegal drugs rather than being bogged down with minor drug possession cases.

“We recommend that Canada’s enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system,” said Palmer.

Palmer also noted that in many departments, police have already adopted a policy of harm reduction when dealing with people who are experiencing issues with addiction and mental health.

“Frequently, our officers are the point of first contact and the ones who will assist individuals in accessing appropriate services and pathways of care,” he said in a statement.

Trudeau Government Responds

Following the release of the CACP report, Canadian Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister David Lametti released a statement saying that they welcomed the group’s “endorsement of a holistic approach” to dealing with the nation’s opioid crisis.

“We appreciate efforts made by law enforcement officers to consider alternative options to criminal charges for simple possession of illicit drugs in appropriate cases, and recognize the importance of reducing barriers to treatment, as well as integrated partnerships between law enforcement and health and social services,” they wrote in the statement.

The ministers also wrote that they would continue to pursue a public health-based approach to the opioid epidemic by working with substance abuse experts, law enforcement, and other first responders. 

“Our government remains committed to advancing evidence-based responses to help reverse the trend of opioid overdose deaths and other substance-related harms in Canada,” they said.

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