With months left before Canada becomes the first country in the G7 to fully legalise marijuana, members of the country’s Liberal party, led federally by Justin Trudeau, are calling on their government to go one step further and decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit drugs.
The internal push to embrace the idea is one of more than two dozen resolutionsset to be debated this week as the political party gathers for their national convention in the east coast city of Halifax. The resolution is one of three put forward by the national caucus, suggesting widespread support among Liberal MPs.
“It’s one of the few issues where we’re taught from a young age, that drugs are bad and that it’s normal to throw people in jail for using drugs,” said Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Liberal MP who has championed decriminalisation since he was elected in 2015.
“Yet when you actually start looking underneath those claims and at the actual evidence and hear from people who have study or lived this issue, this isn’t the right approach.”
Framing drug use as a criminal justice issue rather than one of health has simply served to fuel a lucrative black market, divert resources from law enforcement and marginalise those who are often already on the margins of society, he argued.
The push towards decriminalisation comes as the opioid crisis continues to claim thousands of lives on both sides of the 49th parallel. An estimated 4,000 Canadians died last year due to opioids, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada – more than the number of Canadians who died due to motor vehicle accidents and homicides combined.
In British Columbia, the western Canadian province where officials declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2016, an average of four people die of overdoses each day.
The federal Liberal government has taken steps to address the crisis; expediting the approval of supervised injection sites and permitting physicians to prescribe heroin in cases of severe addiction. These are important steps, said Erskine-Smith. “But obviously if we want to save lives we need to do more.”
That could mean adopting an idea that is gaining steam across Canada as the number of opioid deaths continue to swell. Earlier this year, Canada’s New Democratic Party became the first major political party in Canada to officially champion the idea.