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Sask. not following B.C. on decriminalization path

Harm reduction advocates say Saskatchewan should follow British Columbia’s example when it comes to drug decriminalization, but the provincial government said it has no intention of doing so.

This week, the federal government and BC launched a three-year pilot that would allow people ages 18 and older to possess small amounts of certain illegal drugs without being charged. Last year, the federal government granted BC an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

But don’t expect Saskatchewan to use Ottawa for the same arrangement.

On Wednesday Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said the provincial government was not interested in decriminalization at this time.

“We do not maintain decriminalization in relation to the partnership between BC and the federal government. We believe the rehabilitation side, in which we have invested millions of dollars, is very important and is our very comprehensive response to the problem.”

In BC, persons aged 18 and over are now legally allowed to possess up to 2.5 grams of the following four drugs:

  • Cocaine (crack and powder).
  • methamphetamine.
  • MDMA.
  • Opioids (including heroin, fentanyl and morphine).

Eyre said the government has questions about the BC Plan and that it differs from other jurisdictions that have “taken this path” by decriminalizing certain “hard drugs”.

“Fentanyl and meth, the really serious ones, there’s a lot of questions about that, that’s a good idea and we would respectfully say no in Saskatchewan.”

Eyre said there were questions about “what the Portuguese model is actually doing”.

In 2000, Portugal began decriminalizing all drugs to combat an addiction epidemic. Addiction rates and HIV rates fell.

Portugal also has 170 convalescent facilities for a population of 11 million, providing mental health treatment and mandatory education about the harmful effects of drugs.

Saskatchewan’s Secretary of Mental Health and Addiction Everett Hindley told media on Tuesday that decriminalization is “not on our radar right now.”

Hindley pointed to provincial initiatives to add drug treatment rooms and harm reduction money.

But Kayla DeMong does not agree with the actions of the provincial government. DeMong is the CEO of Saskatoon’s Prairie Harm Reduction.

“For a province like Saskatchewan, where we’re still so focused on prevention and treatment and not on helping people use drugs, decriminalization clearly shows that people who use substances deserve better treatment in our society.” to become. “

DeMong said the province’s response to drug use and overdoses has not worked.

“Your inaction in finding innovative approaches and looking beyond treatment is what is causing people to die in this community, and those deaths are a direct result of the policies proposed by this government.”

The Saskatchewan coroner released preliminary overdose figures last month. They showed a record number of overdose deaths in 2022. The latest figures say there were 204 confirmed and 217 suspected drug deaths in the province in 2022. The total of 421 would surpass the record of 401 set in 2021.

DeMong said there are some concerns about a decriminalization model that requires users to seek treatment and counseling because “not everyone who uses substances has a substance use disorder.”

“There is a risk that as we introduce mechanisms, our already ailing treatment system will become overloaded [saying] that anyone found with substances must have access to those tools.”

DeMong said the idea that anyone who uses substances “needs help” is “really outdated.”

The health critic of the opposition party NDP, Vicki Mowat, did not comment on decriminalization when asked on Wednesday.

Mowat said the government is failing to generate enough community support.

“Unfortunately, the result of this is the enormous number of overdose deaths that we have, which is horribly record-breaking,” Mowat said. “We know we have to work to provide that support. And I look forward to having further consultations with police chiefs to learn more about it.”

Saskatchewan police chiefs have heard the case for decriminalization.

Last year, police and officials in both Regina and Saskatoon received a report from researchers at the University of Saskatchewan recommending the decriminalization of simple drug possession.

The report said there is evidence that decriminalization “can be effective in reducing drug toxicity deaths by reducing exposure to a toxic and unregulated drug supply.”

Benefits also include improved access to harm reduction services that can reduce disease transmission, better relationships with the police, less work for the police, and lower costs to the health and legal systems, the report said.

Neither city went further towards decriminalization.

Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper and Regina Police Chief Evan Bray have both said “de facto” decriminalization exists.

In June, Cooper said, “We still, albeit rarely, accuse people of simple possession.”

Bray said the force has focused in recent years on cutting off drug supplies and filing drug trafficking charges.

The Regina Police Service said in a statement that if officers arrest someone for burglary and trespassing and they happen to have a small amount of drugs, the person will be charged with burglary and trespassing, not possession. The medicines are then destroyed.

DeMong said “de facto” isn’t enough because it leaves too much room for interpretation.

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