Mayor Kennedy Stewart takes motion to city council November 24
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
A motion will be set forth to the city council for Vancouver to decriminalize all simple drug possession. Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart announced this as a possibility on November 19 and if the motion goes through, the city of Vancouver will be the first district in Canada to do this. This follows after across the border; Oregon became the first US state to decriminalize drug possession on November 4.
Mayor Kennedy say this move is an “urgent and necessary next step” in response to the increase of overdose related deaths in the city this year which he says would allow the city to embrace a health-focused approach to drug use. “Personal possession and use of drugs is not a criminal justice issue, it’s a health issue,” said Stewart in a CBC article. “It is time to end the stigma around substance abuse, help connect more of our neighbours to health care, and save lives.”
In 2016, BC declared the amount of overdose related deaths a public health emergency. Since then, there have been more than 18,500 deaths with over 6000 in BC and 1500 in Vancouver. So far this year (the first nine months) the province’s illicit drugs toxicity death toll was past 1200, compared to the 983 deaths in 2019. This makes 2020 the third deadliest year for drug overdoses behind 2017 and 2018. At the time of writing this, there have been 331 COVID-19 related deaths in BC. “We all know that the overdose crisis is getting worse, it’s been impacted by COVID and the level of deaths is intolerable,” said mayor Stewart in a Globe and Mail interview. “This can help to reduce stigma and connect folks with health care.”
Chief medical officer of Vancouver, Patricia Daly, says in an article for the CBC that there is a big difference between those dying of COVID and drug overdoses. “The difference is that those [dying from overdoses] are younger on average, and 90 percent are in the prime of their lives between 19 and 59 years of age.” The motion set forth would see people with simple drug possession avoid criminal charges and direct the city to be exempt from federal drug charges according to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. As the act currently stands, the Minister of Health can exempt anyone under the act if the opinion of the minister states that such exemption is necessary “for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.” This exemption has allowed the use of supervised drug use sites and research involving these controlled substances. The manufacturing and distributing of these drugs, however, remains illegal.