STELTER: Decriminalizing illegal drugs for personal use makes perfect sense – Winnipeg Sun

Decriminalizing illicit drugs for personal use in Canada would be a big step forward in dealing with the current opioid crisis we find ourselves in.
By no means should we legalize drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin but allowing people to have a small amount for their own use would help police to tackle the ones bringing these drugs into our communities.
Instead of dealing with the symptoms, we can allow law enforcement to tackle the root problem of the opioid crisis — the criminal organizations selling this stuff.
It would also knock down a lot of barriers in order to operate supervised consumption sites, where people would be able to use in a safe, controlled environment. It would also help to prevent overdoses and connect substance users to support if they ever want to quit.
The idea of decriminalizing hard drugs we’ve spent years demonizing may come off as a bit scary. Drugs like methamphetamine are highly potent, which makes them extremely addictive.
How someone falls into the world of opioid addiction is irrelevant. People get addicted to legal substances such as alcohol or nicotine, but those substances are normalized and the government profits from those addictions through taxes.
Hell, even the drug of choice for many — caffeine — is addictive. We don’t scoff when we see a lineup of caffeine addicts waiting to purchase their hot cup of java juice, outside Starbucks do we? No.
An addict is an addict. Some are worse than others, but nonetheless addiction is something that can be quite powerful. We shouldn’t shame people for their vices and use a bit of compassion.
The common adage from top police brass across Canada in regards to the opioid crisis is “we can’t arrest our way out of this.” It’s absolutely true, we can’t. There are not enough handcuffs in the world to prevent the opioid crisis to gain an even harder grip on the nation.
Throwing someone in jail for a possession charge does nothing to help the root of the problem. Besides, going through the justice system is a messy process and could potentially further someone’s pain, which in turn could see them back in the darkness of addiction.
Last week two Winnipeg city councillors — Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) — have asked Winnipeg’s chief administrative officer to work with the feds in starting the process of decriminalization.
“It’s hard to seek treatment when you’re literally in jail,” Rollins told reporters on Jan. 24. She added that Black and Indigenous people are overrepresented in drug arrests and prosecution. She’s right.
According to a 2019 report from Public Safety Canada, Indigenous people make up 25.2% of prison populations, despite accounting for only 4.9% of Canada’s population. Black people make up 8.3% of Canada’s prisons according to that same report.
It certainly would be a welcome sight to see decriminalizing happen in Winnipeg.
On Feb. 1 the federal NDP introduced a private member’s bill aimed at decriminalizing illegal drugs for personal use.
Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan said in a news release that a different approach is needed in addressing the opioid crisis.
“The Liberal government has failed to treat this crisis with the urgency it demands and it’s costing people their lives, and families their loved ones,” she said.
“We must dismantle the stigma around drug use and take real action to save lives. We need to decriminalize immediately and save lives by providing access to a regulated safer supply of drugs for users.
According to the NDP, reports have shown that in the first six months of 2021 Manitoba is set to break records for drug-related deaths. That’s not a good record to be breaking.
Decriminalizing drugs is also an idea supported by the Canada Association of Police Chiefs in a report released in July 2020. In the report, the CAPC said they recognize the role police services have in combatting organized crime as well as agreeing that diversion provides new opportunities to make positive impacts in communities.
In the report that between January 2016 and December 2019, more than 15,000 Canadians died as a result of opioid-related overdose. In 2019, between January and December, 3,823 deaths happened with 94% being accidental.
Overdoses can be a strain on our already stretched thin health-care system. Federal government statistics show approximately 16 opioid hospitalizations happening a day between January and June 2021. The median total length of stay in hospital was three days for opioid related poisoning and two days for stimulant-related hospitalizations. Those are staggering figures and only further prove that we need to decriminalize illegal drugs.
People who are suffering from substance use disorder should not have to face criminal records or stigma for having an addiction to an illicit drug. Decriminalizing drugs would remove handcuffs with a hand-up and offer people harm reduction strategies and treatment services.
We all deserve a shot at a better life and that should include people who may be addicted to illegal drugs.
Twitter: @steltsy94
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