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Drug decriminalization not on the radar in Saskatchewan

While British Columbia allows possession of small amounts of hard drugs, the Saskatchewan government is uninterested in following suit.

“Our focus here as a government is on treatment and recovery and a range of additional investments that we have made in harm reduction as part of that. But ultimately, we want to make sure we provide people with access and opportunities for long-term treatment and recovery,” Saskatchewan Secretary of Mental Health and Addiction Everett Hindley said Tuesday.

Hindley said decriminalization just isn’t on the province’s radar right now; It’s more focused on things like expanding treatment beds.

On Tuesday, BC decriminalized possession of 2.5 grams or less of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, but selling the drugs remains illegal. It is an attempt to slow the growing number of drug overdose deaths.

Police chiefs in Saskatchewan will be watching BC closely.

Rick Bourassa, chief of the Moose Jaw Police Service and president of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police, said there have been discussions about decriminalization in Saskatchewan and across the country.

“Leaders not only here in Saskatchewan but across the country have supported the principle of decriminalization. However, we have made it very clear that this must be accompanied by all the appropriate supports and resources that are in place to deal with the consequences of decriminalization,” Bourassa said.

There has also been a spike in drug overdose deaths in Saskatchewan – setting a record in each of the last three years – and Bourassa said there has been a call for more resources to combat the problem, a call the police said he had statement repeated.

He called it a complex situation with many consequences.

If Saskatchewan were to talk about decriminalization, Bourassa said more resources would likely need to be allocated.

In Saskatchewan, there have been informal talks for years, but no formal ones, Bourassa said. He said he would be happy to engage in discussions should they arise.

Currently, a person caught with a small amount of drugs in Saskatchewan does not necessarily face criminal prosecution. Bourassa said police in the province have been more focused on dealing with the drug supply for years, but in the case of the Moose Jaw Police Service, officers weren’t specifically told not to press charges.

“Individual police officers exercise discretion when dealing with people in the community, and many officers may choose not to press charges and proceed in other ways, and we certainly support that discretion among our members,” he said Bourassa.

The chief said there were several other responses an officer could go to, such as alternative measures programs or a police alert.

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray has said on numerous occasions that his officers often do not make arrests for simple possession of small amounts. Police have put together a report on decriminalization in Regina saying it should remain an option, but the report suggests no decision will be made any time soon.

Bourassa said it was an extremely complicated issue.

“It’s one of those problems that we call tricky problems, which is just layers and complexity and really requires the involvement of a wide range of agencies to succeed,” Bourassa said.

He said police chiefs are watching the BC trial and wish it all the success in the world.

The decriminalization project in this province will last three years unless a decision is made to end it sooner.

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