The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) is calling for the decriminalization of the personal possession of drugs as the best way to deal with substance abuse and addiction.
In a release, the CACP wants police departments to reframe personal drug use as a public health issue, believing that a public health approach is better suited to deal with the issue of overdoses than criminal penalties.
These changes would mean that individuals found in possession of small or predetermined amounts of illicit drugs for personal consumption would not be charged with a criminal offence.
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“Canada continues to grapple with the Fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” Chief Constable Adam Palmer, CACP president and Vancouver’s police chief, said in a statement. “We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focussed approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government. “
The CACP is proposing that changes be made on all levels of government to give those struggling with substance abuse better access to healthcare, treatment, and social services instead of facing penalties.
“These healthcare and social supports need to exist on a local, provincial and national level,” the association wrote. “The CACP asserts that diversion opportunities would improve the health and safety outcomes for individuals who use drugs, while also reducing property crime and repeat offences and the demand for drugs in communities.”
Enforcement efforts will instead be focused on combatting organized crime and disrupting the suppliers of the drugs. This means there will be renewed focus on traffickers importers, and producers of drugs, rather than the users.
“While law enforcement continues to be required to stop those putting poisoned and illegal substances on our streets,” Palmer added. “The traditional role of frontline policing has fundamentally shifted to harm reduction when interacting with people experiencing addiction or mental health issues.”
The recommendations are the result of the CACP’s special purpose committee, set up in 2013, to study the decriminalization of illicit drugs.
The committee recommended the creation of a national task force to research drug policy reform and believes an educated policy approach can be taken to drug reform. The release says the CACP would specifically like to see section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act changed to deal with “simple possession” in an alternative manner that promotes a “health-based diversionary approach.”
The committee’s complete report, Decriminalization for Simple Possession of Illicit Drugs, is available online.
If Canada chose to adopt this approach to combating substance abuse, it would join Mexico and Portugal as a handful of countries using a health-centred approach rather than a judicial one to combat addiction.