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Posted: June 5, 2022

Decriminalization of small amounts of drugs a positive step

Letter to the Editor

The British Columbia Association of Social Workers (BCASW) welcomes the decriminalization of small amounts of illicit substances in principle but warns that the change does not go far enough to have the intended outcome of reducing stigma and saving lives.

As federation Partners of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), BCASW has long supported the decriminalization of the personal use of substances to advance a public health approach to drug policy.

Though we are so pleased the federal government has granted this exemption, it falls sorely short of what is needed. As it stands, this change is not enough — it’s our hope that discussion on the exemption limit continues and that a higher, more practical limit is set quickly: the federal government cannot afford to be performative when it comes to people’s lives.

In their application, the province asked for an exemption for 4.5 grams of illicit substances. This was based on extensive research and consultation with those with lived experience of substance use, who determined that this was an acceptable – though still very conservative – small supply for personal use over a few days. The federal government’s exemption has allowed for only 2.5 grams.

The federal government is demonstrating they are ready to listen to the evidence on decriminalization – so why not listen to the evidence when it comes to the details? Now is the time to listen to experts, and, most importantly, the voices of lived and living experience.

This announcement comes at an interesting time for Canada, as Bill C-216, a Private Member’s Bill that would federally decriminalize small amounts of drugs and bring forth other public health approaches to drug policy, is set to be debated in the House of Commons today (June 1).

We strongly support Bill C-216 because it would affirm what experts, advocates, and those with lived experience of substance all know to be true: substance use is a health issue, and if we keep treating it like a criminal issue, we will never solve the opioid crisis and save lives. We are hopeful Members of Parliament will see this as the non-partisan, health issue that it is, and quickly pass the Bill to the Committee stage.

Beyond the strong positive step of decriminalization, other resources are also needed to not only save lives, but foster dignity, health, and safety for all. Any change to criminalization must be accompanied by more robust supports: an increased safe supply and additional treatment and recovery spaces are profoundly necessary.

There is no one silver bullet to solve the opioid crisis – it’s going to take a combination of elements working in concert – but decriminalization is an incredibly important one. We are hopeful this step in B.C. is the first of many.

BC Association of Social Workers and

Canadian Association of Social Workers

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