Vancouver’s frontline fentanyl responders make the case for legalization in private meeting with Trudeau

published on January 31, 2017 by Travis Lupick in The Georgia Straight

Prime Minister cites difficulties legalizing marijuana as a barrier to real debate around regulating hard drugs like cocaine and heroin

Last Sunday (January 29), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould sat down in Vancouver with a roomful of people on the frontlines of B.C.’s fentanyl crisis.

Trudeau, who was in Vancouver for the Chinese New Year parade, attended the morning meeting at SUCCESS’s Pender Street offices in Chinatown. There were about a dozen stakeholders there for the private meeting at the social-services agency, including Vancouver’s police and fire chiefs, among others. Three points were repeated by just about everyone in attendance, according to interviews with five of those people.

The first was a call for Ottawa to declare a federal health emergency. The second was a request for funding for addictions treatment. The third, for the Canadian government to consider the pros and cons of the full legalization and regulation of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.

Coco Culbertson is a programs manager with the Portland Hotel Society, which runs Vancouver’s supervised-injection facility, Insite, and 15 social-housing projects in the Downtown Eastside.

“Everyone brought up full legalization,” she said. And the prime minister’s response?

“His reaction was that it made common sense, but that creating a policy that reflects common sense, especially around drug-policy reform, is far more complicated than he anticipated,” Culbertson recounted. “To legalize and regulate marijuana, I think he has been surprised by how difficult it has been.”

She said Trudeau’s reaction was not encouraging but left open the possibility of further dialogue down the road.

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