Decriminalizing People Who Use Drugs: A Primer for Municipal and Provincial Governments

As the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis sweep across Canada, all policymakers have an obligation to adopt evidence-based measures that uphold the health and safety of people who use drugs. This includes municipal and provincial governments, who can take immediate steps to minimize the harms of current drug laws by decriminalizing drug possession for personal use (i.e. “simple drug possession”) in their own jurisdictions.

This report outlines how they can do this through a request to the federal Minister of Health, who has a broad power to issue exemptions from the federal law criminalizing simple drug possession. This approach is not novel, and employs an existing provision in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) that already allows supervised consumption services to operate without risk of criminal prosecution.