Vancouver has become the first Canadian city to vote to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.
This week, Vancouver city council voted to pursue a plan to decriminalise all drugs, including heroin and methamphetamines. The vote was unanimously passed, likely a response to the province’s drug crisis that has been a prominent cause of deaths throughout the pandemic.
Canada is ahead of the game when it comes to reform on drugs like marijuana (which is legal for recreational purposes), and now it aims to follow in the footsteps of countries like Portugal, Switzerland, and Norway. Countries that have embraced radical drug reforms are experiencing plummeting rates of drug related deaths, incarceration, and HIV infections.
The legislation will need to be approved Canada’s federal government, which would see similar outcomes as that of Oregon in the United States, which was granted exemptions from federal laws governing drug use.
Vancouver has not established whether it will follow the model of decriminalisation seen in Portugal which replaces criminal repercussions with administrative ones, for example a fine or direction to rehabilitation services. Though this model has been successful in most outcomes, it has been criticised due to the fact it is still heavily policed.
It’s yet to be seen what economic impact decriminalisation can have for countries like Portugal and Canada exactly, as economic recession and crisis can be linked to increase in drug use. However, it is observed that drug use typically rises and falls in line with broader cultural, social, or economic trends according to transformdrug.org.
Depending on the approval from the federal government, Vancouver could be the first province in Canada to decriminalise illicit substances, which could bolster a wave across the nation and the world that started slowly in Portugal.
Matt Sutton, a spokesperson for the Drug Policy Alliance based in New York, said in an interview with VICE that the efforts to bring about decriminalisation in Vancouver and Oregon suggest the movement is invigorated and quickly gaining support across North America.
“As much as people have seen the success in Portugal, they’ll start to see the success in Oregon and Vancouver, and really see that a public health approach to drugs makes the most sense, they will come to the realisation that criminalising people for drug use is completely ineffective and it’s a waste of resources. It’s ruined lives, quite frankly.” Said Sutton.