Updated: Mar 1, 2021
The city council of Vancouver has unanimously voted to decriminalise the possession of all illegal drugs in an effort to battle the overdose crisis in the region. Which has gotten worse due to the increasing amount of drugs contaminated with fentanyl and the current pandemic.
The change in the law means users will no longer be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. The city council hopes this will motivate users to seek professional help and reduce the rising amount of overdoses in the region. One of the main reasons for the high number of drug overdoses, is suppliers and dealers mixing their cocaine and heroin with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very potent, but also relatively cheap opiate that gets added to increase the potency of a batch of drugs. Most users are unaware they are using drugs cut with fentanyl. According to Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, another reason for the rise in overdoses is the current COVID-19 pandemic. Which led to a number of harm reduction facilities closing down. The ones that are still open have seen their visiting numbers drop because their patients are scared of catching the virus when they visit the facility. Commenting on passing the bill, Mayor Kennedy Stewart told the press:
“Vancouver has once again decided to lead the way on drug policy in order to save lives. If approved by the federal government, we will begin a robust process to determine how decriminalisation will be implemented in Vancouver.”
Drug overdoses have been on the rise in Vancouver and the rest of the state of British Columbia for a number of years. In 2016 it was already declared a public health emergency and since then more than 5000 people died from overdoses. At least 1536 of these deaths were in Vancouver.
Decriminalising all drugs will not stop dealers from mixing drugs with deadly doses of fentanyl. But it can take away the fear of being arrested for possession, which will hopefully motivate more users to call for help when something goes wrong. It can also be the first step into opening drug testing facilities where people can check if their drugs are clean. A similar system has been used successfully in The Netherlands for years now. But before any of this can happen, the federal government of Canada needs to approve the change in the law. Unfortunately this can take months.