Thomas Kerr and Garth Mullins: The Vancouver model of decriminalization leaves out those who need it most

published on May 27, 2021 by Thomas Kerr and Garth Mullins in Vancouver Sun

In response to the ongoing and escalating overdose crisis, the City of Vancouver recently announced its intention to apply to the federal government to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs.

The decriminalization of drug possession has been recommended by a range of international organizations, and models of decriminalization have been implemented in a range of settings, most notably 20 years ago in Portugal. The approach has potential to reduce the harms of drug prohibition, including those associated with arrest and incarceration.

The City of Vancouver is taking a bold step, but success largely depends on the details, and there has been much controversy surrounding this initiative. People who use drugs and the organizations that represent them were only consulted after the most critical elements of the submission to Health Canada were drafted. The result? A proposed model that doesn’t reflect the realities of people who use drugs in Vancouver and has potential to perpetuate their ongoing criminalization and its associated harms…

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