BCCSU statement on plan to decriminalize simple possession of drugs in Vancouver

published on November 18, 2020

The BC Centre on Substance Us strongly supports the motion before City Council to apply for a section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for implementation and evaluation of the decriminalization of people who use drugs.

Research clearly demonstrates that strategies that emphasize criminalization and drug law enforcement with the aim of reducing access to illicit drugs have been ineffective and costly. Rather, this approach has had unintended consequences such as fostering a mistrust with the health system and discouraging people who need and want care from seeking it. Criminalization stigmatizes people who use drugs, who are regularly discriminated against and turned away by health-care providers who don’t understand that substance use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one.

A widely referenced example of this approach is the Portugal model, where decriminalization of people possessing personal amounts of illegal drugs paired with an integrated range of prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery, and social integration services has led to a significant reduction in problematic drug use, drug-related harms (including HIV infection and overdose), and criminal justice overcrowding and recidivism.

In light of this evidence and real-world examples, numerous research and policymaking bodies, including the BC Centre on Substance Use, have recommended a move towards a public health-oriented perspective that includes decriminalization.

BC Centre on Substance Us leadership, researchers, and our community of stakeholders not only support this motion, we are also eager to work with our partners at Vancouver Coastal Health and the City of Vancouver to support implementation and provide research expertise to evaluate this new innovative intervention.