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Saskatchewan continues talk about drug decriminalization following start of B.C. trial

The Saskatchewan government is not currently considering decriminalizing illicit drugs, but talks between authorities and provincial attorneys continue as a pilot project begins in BC

Beginning Tuesday, BC will begin a three-year process to test the impact of drug decriminalization in the province.

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) in BC says on its website that anyone over the age of 18 can possess a total of 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs without fines, arrest or seizure.

“BC will be the guinea pig, if you will, for this pilot with the federal government,” Saskatchewan Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said in December 2022 after the plan was announced.

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The drugs being decriminalized in BC are opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamines and MDMA (ecstasy), which the FNHA notes are the drugs being poisoned in BC’s toxic drug supply.

BC’s goal is to reduce the shame and stigma associated with drug use so people feel more comfortable seeking help.

“This will mean that many people are likely to be more open about their substance use, speaking up with friends, family and caregivers and feeling like they don’t need to hide their use – and use alone where no one is available to provide naloxone or for help call,” says the FNHA website.

The Saskatchewan government confirmed Tuesday in a statement to Global News that it is not considering criminal exemptions for drugs such as methamphetamine or cocaine.

“It is unknown what potential long-term public safety impact decriminalization of illicit drugs will have,” the statement said.

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“The Saskatchewan government’s focus remains on funding programs and services to help people with addiction problems and provide treatment pathways.”

Saskatchewan Health Secretary Paul Merriman was asked several times for his reaction to the trial at a news conference on Tuesday. He said decriminalization was not being considered in Saskatchewan and referred the question to Secretary of State for Mental Health and Addiction Everett Hindley.

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“It’s not on our radar right now,” Hindley said. “Our focus here is on treatment and recovery and the additional investments we have made to mitigate the damage.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure we’re providing people with access and pathways to long-term treatment and recovery.”

BC confirmed that this does not mean that drugs will be legalized.

“The drugs covered by this exemption remain illegal,” the province said in a press release. “The sale (or trafficking) of controlled substances remains illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, regardless of the amount.”

Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police President Rick Bourassa said that while there are no plans to decriminalize drugs in the province, it is a conversation between agencies.

“We support it as long as there are the appropriate resources and support to make it successful,” Bourassa said.

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He explained that if a similar trial were considered in Saskatchewan, police and authorities would investigate the impact of addiction in the community.

“One of the metrics we would look at is the damage in terms of deaths in our province.”

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The Saskatchewan Coroners Service reports that there were 200 suspected drug toxicity deaths in the province between January 1, 2022 and October 31.

Saskatoon-based Prairie Harm Reduction Executive Director Kayla DeMong said she hopes this is a step in the right direction for the country.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens on the side of justice as people continue to be harassed and arrested,” DeMong said.

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DeMong strongly believes that decriminalization should be implemented across the country.

“Other countries have shown that decriminalization is incredibly beneficial and has huge implications on the judicial side of things and the social side of things.”

She said she heard the topic being discussed locally in Saskatoon but wished it spread across Canada.

“We wish them all the success in the world for making this a successful program and we will be speaking to them and learning from them as we move forward,” Bourassa said.

“It’s a conversation that needs to continue.”

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– Featuring files from Global News’ Brody Langager, Amy Judd and Kristen Robinson

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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