Ontario NDP would decriminalize simple drug possession, Liberals not considering it

From the CBC News article

Ontario’s New Democrats would work with Ottawa on decriminalizing drugs for personal use if the party is elected to form government this week, but the provincial Liberals aren’t considering a similar move.

The issue emerged on the last day of the election campaign in Ontario, following the announcement of a three-year agreement between British Columbia and the federal government that means people won’t be charged for possessing up to 2.5 grams of some illicit drugs in an effort to curb overdose deaths.

Ontario has not submitted a proposal to follow suit, but Toronto’s top doctor did earlier this year.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said decriminalizing simple possession of drugs is part of her party’s plan to address the overdose crisis, along with lifting a cap on safe drug consumption sites and improving access to treatment.

“It is about saving lives, and that’s what we have to do,” Horwath said at a Wednesday campaign event in Brampton, Ont.

“We have to do better, and we can do better, so yes, absolutely, making sure that we have a safe drug supply, that we decriminalize simple possession, but most importantly, that we provide the services that people need to try to help them get well.”

Horwath also noted that it was a New Democrat government in British Columbia that made the first-in-Canada decriminalization policy happen.

Ontario’s New Democrats have also promised to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Horwath said conversations around the limit of drugs exempted under a decriminalization policy — whether she would ask for a 4.5 gram limit as B.C. did — would have to happen with experts before making a submission to the federal government.

A spokeswoman for the Liberal campaign said the party isn’t considering decriminalizing drugs.

At an afternoon media event in Toronto, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said decriminalization is “not in our plan right now” but pointed to other things his party is proposing to fight the overdose crisis.

The Liberal party has said it will restart an opioid task force, expand access to the overdose reversal medication naloxone and lift the cap on new consumption and treatment sites that was brought in by the Progressive Conservative government.

But Dr. Tara Gomes, a researcher at Unity Health in Toronto and lead of the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network, said taking a localized approach to decriminalization isn’t the best way forward.

“There’s a real concern if just Toronto decriminalizes drug use people who move outside of those boundaries, or are visiting Toronto, aren’t going to always understand the complexities of that,” Gomes said.

“So I think that these really localized approaches are really challenging and we need to broaden it across the country.”

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