Stating that he is “pleased” by the news, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Health Canada has announced it will begin formal discussions on Vancouver’s plan to decriminalize simple possession of all illicit drugs.
“This is another hopeful and critical milestone on the path towards fully embracing a health-focussed approach to substance use in the City of Vancouver,” said Stewart.
The announcement comes after Stewart put forward a motion last November to ask the federal government to take such steps.
“It’s not a criminal issue, it’s a health issue,” he said at the time, adding that the initiative is long overdue.
Stewart also noted that his motion didn’t include legislative change or the need to go through the House of Commons or Senate.
“This can be done by a Cabinet order, or in some cases the Federal Health Minister can order this to happen,” he said. “That’s what happened with supervised consumption sites.”
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On Wednesday, Stewart expressed his gratitude to the federal government and Health Canada for its “attention and dedication” to the file.
“This news comes at a time when the overdose crisis in our city has never been worse, with a person-a-day still needlessly dying due to poison drugs,” he said. “I am hopeful that this news from Ottawa can mean that 2021 will be different.”
In her correspondence with Vancouver, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said she is “committed to our continued work to identify options that respond to the local needs” of the city.
“As we work through the details of your exemption request, I will also help you explore policy measures you identify that will address and alleviate the death and suffering caused by the opioid crisis, a tragedy exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she wrote. “Health Canada officials will work with officials from the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Coastal Health to better understand the framework you are proposing.”
If approved, Vancouver will become the first Canadian jurisdiction to decriminalize the personal possession of illicit substances.