Toronto asks Ottawa to decriminalize drugs for 'all ages'

Toronto intends to decriminalize all hard drugs for all ages, including fentanyl and crack cocaine.

Toronto asks Ottawa to decriminalize drugs for 'all ages'
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The City of Toronto recently asked Ottawa to grant a Health Canada exemption for all drugs, even children — more lenient than a similar exemption granted to B.C. on January 31.

Health Canada granted B.C. a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs. 

B.C.'s three-year program permitted residents over 18 to have 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA, and meth on hand.

Despite the exemption, this doesn't mean hard drugs are legal, noted the province.

However, Toronto is asking for youth to be included in their request, as city officials claim criminalization does not deter youth substance use. 

"The data show that youth in Toronto between the ages of 12 and 17 use unregulated drugs and are vulnerable to the same harms associated with criminalization as adults," they wrote.

Giuseppe Ganci, a recovering former cocaine and ecstasy user now helping to treat drug addicts, said the province's move to temporarily decriminalize possession of up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA, and meth would not save lives.

Though the province believes the move will reduce the "shame" and "stigma" for people accessing help with substance abuse, Ganci, who works with recovering teenage users at Last Door Recovery, said it's "bizarre" to suggest stigmatization prevents addicts from getting treatment.

He started using alcohol and marijuana at 13 and became addicted to hard drugs at 16.

"I've never met a person who uses drugs, including myself, that didn't get help because they felt 'stigmatized,'" said Ganci, adding addicts don't get treatment because they "like" drugs and "don't want to stop using."

As part of Toronto's request, they exempt child care facilities, airports and schools from their decriminalization approach.

"The exclusion of child care facilities and schools is intended to maintain alignment with provincial legislation to prevent alcohol, cannabis, and unregulated drug use in these settings. Airports are excluded because they fall under federal laws," reads the report. 

While Toronto claims it would still investigate individuals for drug trafficking and other violations, it did not explicitly limit the quantity of drugs for personal use. 

"Drugs in possession for personal use can vary considerably depending on the type of drugs used or an individual's tolerance to a substance. For the anticipated benefits of decriminalization to be available to all Torontonians, the model should apply to all drugs in possession if they are for personal use," wrote city officials. 

"However, individuals will still be investigated for and charged with trafficking and/or possession for trafficking, exporting, or producing a controlled substance where there are reasonable grounds for any such charge."

In B.C., adults are not subject to criminal charges, and the drugs are not seized. Instead, they are offered information about health and social support.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has been a vocal opponent of the decriminalization approach. 

"Flooding our streets with decriminalized and taxpayer-subsidized drugs has led to a massive overdose crisis across the country," said Poilievre on March 29, commenting on the string of random, violent attacks nationwide.

Since 2016, 32,000 Canadians have died from opioid-related deaths, and a further 33,000 Canadians have been hospitalized, according to Poilievre.

"The NDP-Liberal approach has failed. It has put more drugs on our streets, leading to more addictions, deaths and despair," claimed the Tory leader, who blamed B.C.'s provincial government for contributing to the problem. 

On March 14, Poilievre pledged to sue the pharmaceutical industry for $44 billion to fund drug treatment if elected prime minister; however, he remained hushed on supervised consumption sites.

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