Edmonton takes step toward decriminalizing simple possession of illegal drugs

At a committee meeting Monday morning, Edmonton city councillors voted in favour of asking administration to explore the issue of decriminalizing simple possession of illegal drugs and provide recommendations by early 2023.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi put forward the motion and councillors Tim Cartmell, Michael Janz, Karen Tang and Jo-Anne Wright all voted in favour. The motion will still need to go before a city council meeting.

“Having a comprehensive plan, including decriminalizing of simple possession, is a tool that we want to explore,” Sohi told reporters following the committee meeting.

“This is a long-term strategy because it involves a comprehensive application process. It would require a lot of advocacy work that we would have to undertake with local authorities here as well as with the federal government and coordinating our efforts with other municipalities. So it’s going to take some time for us to figure it out.”

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Read more: There are growing calls for drug decriminalization. Could it solve Canada’s opioid crisis?

As a crisis of opioid-related overdoses and deaths rages on in Canada, advocates have long been saying that decriminalization would help to reduce stigma associated with drug use and help save lives.

In Edmonton last year, a record-breaking 666 people died from drug poisoning, according to Sohi.

“People aren’t scared to tell me about their cannabis use, imagine if people weren’t scared to tell me, as a physician, about their drug use and wanted to have an open and honest conversation?” Dr. Ginetta Salvalaggio, with the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s opioid poisoning committee, told city councillors.

“That would be a game-changer,” she said.

Darren McGeown, owner of Arcadia Brewing Co., spoke in favour of Edmonton decriminalizing possession of illegal drugs.

Darren McGeown, owner of Arcadia Brewing Co., spoke in favour of Edmonton decriminalizing possession of illegal drugs. He said as a business owner, he needs to be voicing his support for harm-reduction strategies to help tackle the drug crisis.

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“I feel as a business owner, I have a duty to create a stronger community. A strong community outside creates a strong community inside Arcadia,” McGeown told Global News.

“These drug poisonings are happening all over the city. This isn’t just a downtown Edmonton situation. I think more businesses involved, the stronger voice we have.”

Edmonton is the latest Canadian jurisdiction to explore the issue.

READ MORE: Jurisdictions pushing to decriminalize small amounts of drugs as overdose deaths soar

Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, jurisdictions can ask the federal government for exemptions to allow people to have small amounts of substances such as cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.

Vancouver formally asked for that in May 2021.

British Columbia was the first province to make its own request, in November 2021. Toronto followed in January.

With files from The Canadian Press. 

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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