Sudbury

Sudbury doctor says Canada needs to rethink drug policy

A Sudbury doctor says Canada’s current approach to drug policy is not working.
A Sudbury doctor says Canada could look to Portugal for a new drug policy approach, which would include decriminalization. (CBC)
During the 2015 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to legalize marijuana, saying that prohibition doesn't work The Liberals have said pot will be legal by this summer, but haven't specified a date. And legalizing pot may be just the beginning. A recent story in the Globe and Mail suggested the Liberals may look at decriminalizing some drugs, if they win the next federal election. At the next Liberal convention, there's a push to discuss the idea of eliminaing criminal penalties for simple possession and use. And it's something Dr. David Marsh thinks is worth looking at. Dr. Marsh a professor of clinical sciences at the Northern Ontario school of Medicine and has been working in addiction medicine since 1995. 7:29

A Sudbury doctor says Canada's current approach to drug policy is not working.

The federal government is in the process of legalizing marijuana, which is expected to be legal sometime this summer. Until then, the drug remains illegal and people are being charged under drug laws.

The Liberals will discuss decriminalizing use and possession of narcotics at the party's policy convention in April, and some members hope the party will include decriminalization in the party's election platform in 2019.

"The idea [is] that making possession, production and sale of all these drugs completely illegal and heavily enforcing it would somehow decrease the supply and decrease the number of people who use. There's no evidence that has had any effectiveness," Dr. David Marsh, a professor of clinical sciences at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine said.

"Over the last number of decades, the number of availability of drugs has continued to go up and the price and purity has fallen. There's pretty good objective evidence that the prohibition against drugs is a complete failure."

Looking to other countries

Marsh says the approach to decriminalize would be different for each drug.

"Roughly speaking, the more addictive the drug is, the more harm it does to individuals lives, the more carefully the approach has to be crafted," he said.

Dr. David Marsh a professor of clinical sciences at the Northern Ontario school of Medicine and has been working in addiction medicine since 1995. (Supplied/NOSM)

Marsh says Canada could look to Portugal, where all drugs for personal possession have been decriminalized for a number of years.

"They have a system where people who are identified as drug users are then reviewed by a panel of experts and have a treatment program and other measures developed and tailored to their individual needs," he said.

"Rather than spending a lot of money on incarceration and the legal system in a process that we know has no long term benefit for society or the drug user … they spend that money on providing good quality treatment."

Marsh says last year, Portugal had 30 overdose deaths. He says on a bad weekend, Canada can see that many overdose deaths.

"There's really major positive changes that could result from a change in the drug policy approach," he said.