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ID: HR23-731
Presenting author: Nicole Luongo

Decrim Done Right: A community-led, rights-based path for drug policy in Canada

Sandra Ka Hon Chu, Caitlin Shane, Sandhia Vadlamudy, Richard Elliott, Natasha Touesnard, Donald Macpherson, Shay Vanderschaeghe, Nicole Luongo
Canada faces an unprecedented drug poisoning crisis, fueled by punitive drug laws and prohibitionist policies that disproportionately harm poor and racialized drug users. In response, policymakers and police have developed responses to lessen the harms of drug prohibition, including non-prosecution policies and diversion programs. The province of British Columbia is set to decriminalize personal drug possession (up to 2.5 grams) in 2023, and the city of Toronto is expected to adopt its decriminalization policy later that year. Despite these progressions, all fall short of a vision of decriminalization that centres human rights and drug user liberation.

In 2020, wary of reforms rooted in denunciation and deterrence, civil society developed their own platform for decriminalization grounded in human rights and racial justice. This platform involved drafting and consultation with a range of stakeholders, including Black and Indigenous community organizations and advocates, to ensure the racialized impacts of drug prohibition were reflected.

The CSO platform for decriminalization includes:
• Full removal of criminal sanctions, penalties, and coercive interventions for simple drug possession, and for necessity trafficking, defined as the sharing or selling of drugs for subsistence, to support personal drug use costs, or to provide a safe supply.
• Automatic expungement of previous convictions for these activities.
• Removal of police as “liaisons” between people who use drugs and health and social services, to be replaced by organizations led by people who use(d) drugs or skilled frontline workers.
• Redistribution of resources from law enforcement to programs and services that promote health and human rights, including housing and social services.

The platform was released in 2021 and has been endorsed by 100+ organizations in Canada, which have measured subsequent proposals for drug policy reform against its key recommendations. It remains a key advocacy resource among communities whose governments contemplate local decriminalization policies.