Police chiefs studying decriminalizing drugs as possible solution to opioid crisis

As the opioid crisis continues to kill thousands of Canadians, the country's police chiefs are taking a closer look at the possibility of decriminalizing — or even legalizing — illicit drugs, CBC News/Radio-Canada has learned

Association of Chiefs of Police says death toll has prompted them to take a closer look at the issue

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has asked a special committee to study decriminalizing drugs. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

 As the opioid crisis continues to kill thousands of Canadians, the country's police chiefs are taking a closer look at the possibility of decriminalizing — or even legalizing — illicit drugs, CBC News/Radio-Canada has learned

A spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police cautions that the group hasn't yet taken a position on legalization — they're still investigating the issue.

"It's important to emphasize that decriminalization is one option among others for combating the opioid crisis," Natalie Wright said in an e-mail

In March, the group's board of directors voted to put in place a special committee to look at four issues:

  • Exploring the impact that decriminalization or legalization of drugs could have on police forces
  • Identifying models of decriminalization
  • Looking at existing research and identify gaps
  • Developing a position for the CACP​

Wright said the opioid crisis has been identified as a strategic priority for the association.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says more than 4,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses in Canada in 2017. 

Trudeau weighs in

At the Liberal Party's recent policy convention in Halifax, party members voted in favour of a policy of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illicit drugs as a way to reduce overdose deaths.

The resolution became official party policy. However, the prime minister has indicated it's not about to become government policy just yet.

"We'll of course reflect on next steps for a broad range of issues they bring up. On that particular issue, as I've said, it's not part of our plans," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at the convention.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor told CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Friday that while Portugal has decriminalized all drugs, such a model wouldn't necessarily work in Canada because health care is provided by 13 different provinces and territories rather than directly by the federal government.

"The realities are very, very different," she said.

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