Regina police commission say drug decriminalization could be an option — just not yet
Chief Evan Bray says police service already practises de-facto drug decriminalization
Regina's board of police commissioners has agreed that the decriminalization of illicit drugs should remain on their radar, but a decision is not coming anytime soon.
On Tuesday, officials universally agreed that decriminalization had benefits, but also that the health and support systems necessary to deal with addiction are not yet widely available in the city.
"Decriminalization is about not charging someone, but diverting them to another support, service or health care kind of driven focus that allows them to deal with whatever their issue might be," said Regina Police Chief Evan Bray.
"Right now, we're not charging, but we don't really have some great off-ramps in terms of diversion."
The discussion came as the board held its first in-person meeting at the Regina Police Service's Headquarters since early 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Board members received a report that recommended the immediate de-facto decriminalization of illicit drugs in Regina, followed by a longer process to make it official.
The first step would see law enforcement choosing to refrain from imposing criminal charges on people for personal amounts of illegal drugs.
Making it official would require a Health Canada exemption to permit individuals to possess a small personal amount of drugs — something that will be tested in British Columbia next year.
The report that went to the Regina police board was authored by University of Saskatchewan researchers Lori Hanson and Barbara Fornssler.
It found that decriminalization would benefit society as well as individuals who use drugs.
Fornssler appeared by video call on Tuesday to take questions from commissioners.
She also told them that evidence indicates decriminalization does not increase drug use, but does reduce drug overdose deaths and lowers the burden on the judicial system.
Fornssler said that Saskatoon and Regina could implement their own decriminalization efforts and force the province to take action.
"We can't do it more wrong than we have been doing," Fornssler said.
Police chief say de facto policy already here
Bray said that the police service is already using a de-facto decriminalization policy in Regina.
He said the force has begun to dramatically reduce the number of people it charges with simple drug possession.
When drug charges are laid, they're now often trafficking-related, Bray said.
People arrested on other charges and found to have a small amounts of drugs do not face a drug charge, he said.
While the Saskatchewan government has made it clear that it has no plans for decriminalization, that doesn't mean Regina or Saskatoon has their hands tied.
The cities could choose to apply to Health Canada for exemptions on their own.
On Tuesday, Mayor Sandra Masters said she would be open to decriminalizing illicit drugs if that was what the city wanted, but stressed that support systems offered by the province would likely be key in making decriminalization work.
"To say that, hey, we have an idea we should implement it is reckless, frankly, without understanding the context and again, bringing everybody along while we go with that,"said Masters.
The report was ultimately accepted by police commissioners and forwarded to city administration.
It's findings will likely be passed onto the still in-development external, non-profit organization that was created through the city's community safety and well-being plan.