Sudbury

Greater Sudbury police say feds should decriminalize illicit drugs for personal use

Greater Sudbury Police say drug use is a public health issue and possession – for personal use – should be decriminalized. 

Strategy would make it easier to target drug traffickers, Sudbury police inspector says

Sudbury police say that legalizing the personal use of drugs would help free up resources to tackle dealers. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Greater Sudbury Police say drug use is a public health issue and possession —  for personal use — should be decriminalized. 

But decriminalization doesn't mean drug use would be legal, Inspector Dan Despatie said.

"What we've been doing insofar as our approach to illicit drugs...clearly has not been good enough, and clearly has not been working."

"Therefore this is a new approach at [finding] a solution."

Despatie, who also works with the city's Community Drug Strategy group, said Sudbury's police officers already have discretion when it comes to busting people with small amounts of drugs.

"As it stands, what we're doing is arresting people and charging them," he said. "Clearly that hasn't worked."

"But decriminalization can be an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms that are associated with substance abuse by approaching it with a non-criminal response, which is not the same as legalization."

Recently, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police called on Ottawa to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, saying the current strategy doesn't work, and should be replaced with a "health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system."

Despatie added that targeting drug dealers and criminal organizations is a better use of resources. 

"Most community drug strategies that I know of operate on a four pillar approach," Despatie said. "With two of those being harm reduction and treatment pillars."

The city's Community Drug Strategy has pulled in various stakeholders to weigh in on Sudbury's drug problems. Shown here, an unsanctioned pop-up supervised drug consumption site appeared in 2019. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

"What we know for sure is that people that experience substance use face many repercussions," he said. "Criminal records, stigma, a risk of overdose, the risk of blood borne disease."

"Therefore the decriminalization for possession only is a way to decrease these harms by removing those criminal sanctions and replacing that with access to those treatment and harm reduction services."

Despatie added that people shouldn't be scared that police are turning a blind eye to drug use.

"That's absolutely not what's happening. It's a matter of fact," he said.

 "It's a new opportunity for police to make positive community impacts while still focusing on the importing, the production and the trafficking of illicit substances –  the higher end stuff upstream –  trying to stop the drugs from getting into our community at that level."

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