Drug Policy

Overview

In Canada and other countries, drug use and dependence are treated largely as criminal law concerns — and people who use drugs are vilified and subjected to routine and often horrific human rights abuses.

Yet extensive evidence shows that doing the reverse would be more productive. The overreliance on criminal law enforcement (a.k.a. “the war on drugs”) is not only ineffective, it is hugely wasteful, carrying enormous financial costs and taking a terrible human toll on people who use drugs and their families and loved ones. Furthermore, criminalizing and incarcerating people for drug use, and denying access to effective health services, only fuels the spread of infections such as HIV and hepatitis C (HCV). Instead, all available evidence indicates that protecting and promoting the human rights of people who use drugs is necessary and effective in upholding their human rights, including their right to health.

We’re committed to reducing the harms caused by harsh, misguided drug laws. Instead of prohibition and punishment, drug policy must be grounded in sound  evidence, and in the principle of the universality of human rights — rights to which all people are equally entitled, including people who use drugs.

We advocate for:

  • increased access to harm reduction and other evidence-based health services, such as needle and syringe programs, supervised consumption and overdose prevention services, a safe, regulated drug supply, and drug dependence treatment;
  • criminal legal system reforms that respect the human rights and promote the health of people who use drugs and reduce their chances of incarceration, with a focus on the impacts of such reforms on Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities;
  • drug policy that is evidence-informed, human rights–based, culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive; and
  • international standards on drug policy, including harm reduction and drug dependence treatment, that are consistent with human rights norms.

Harm Reduction Advocacy Guide

What is the drug poisoning crisis and what are supervised consumption services?

Canada is now fully immersed in a drug poisoning crisis — fueled by a contaminated drug supply — that is killing at an alarming rate. From 2016 to 2021, more than 29,052 people have died. In 2021 there were approximately 21 drug poisoning deaths in Canada every day — and it’s not getting any better.

Watch Decriminalize Now: Akia’s Story, a short first-person narrative film about the drug poisoning crisis — and daring to dream of a better future for people who use drugs. We can get there by rethinking repressive drug policy, in Canada and beyond.

Learn more:

PublicationsNews

Care, Connection, and Access

This paper examines the legal and policy measures needed to scale up safe supply at supervised consumption services in Canada.  

Rapid Q&A – An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on April 16, 2024

Rapid Q&A prepared by the HIV Legal Network on May 7, 2024.

Submission to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD):

Joint submission by the HIV Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition Secretariat of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) regarding increasing calls in Canada for involuntary care and detention of people who use drugs.

SCALING UP SUPERVISED CONSUMPTION SERVICES: WHAT HAS CHANGED IN CANADA?

In a report released in 2019, the HIV Legal Network explored the state of SCS in Canada in the previous year, described and analyzed legal and policy developments related to SCS implementation since their first inception, identified barriers and facilitators faced by current and future SCS operators, and formulated a series of recommendations primarily targeting the … Read more

Towards Access for All: Best and Promising Practices from Low-Barrier, Harm Reduction Shelters in Canada

On September 21, 2023, the HIV Legal Network hosted the “Violence Against Women (VAW) Shelter Harm Reduction Roundtable” in Toronto, Ontario. The Legal Network invited front-line staff, directors, and peers from VAW shelters, emergency shelters, and transition houses across Canada. Our goal was to learn from these shelters and transition houses, which are engaged in … Read more

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Together we can end the harmful “War on Drugs”

Today — International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) — is not just a day of reflection but a call to action. It is a plea to governments, organizations, and individuals to come together and prioritize life, health, and dignity above prejudice and stigma as we push toward a world where people who use substances are met with … Read more

MEDIA STATEMENT: HIV LEGAL NETWORK CELEBRATES 30 YEARS WITH DIGITAL GROWTH AND A NEW PODCAST

Toronto, ON (April 25, 2023) — This year, the HIV Legal Network celebrates its 30th anniversary. Founded in December 1992 as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the organization has spent the past three decades advocating to protect the human rights of all people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as those … Read more

IT’S TIME FOR DRUG DECRIMINALIZATION – DONE RIGHT – NOW

With no time for half-measures, Canada needs full decriminalization nation-wide, led by lived experience and evidence Monday, January 30, 2023 — This week, we are watching with great interest as the possession of some drugs in small amounts will finally be decriminalized in the Province of British Columbia. While in theory a positive step forward … Read more

WORLD AIDS DAY 2022: IT’S TIME TO EQUALIZE, IN CANADA AND BEYOND

November 30, 2022 — Today, the HIV Legal Network marks World AIDS Day by joining with the United Nations (UN) in a call to governments around the world to reform laws, policies, and practices that create and exacerbate the stigma faced by people living with HIV. With this year’s theme being “Equalize,” we are focused … Read more

POINTS OF PERSPECTIVE: NEW REPORT ON NORTH AMERICA’S FIRST-EVER PRISON NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM (IN CANADA) SHOWS CRITICAL LIMITATIONS AND CHALLENGES

November 29, 2022 — Today, researchers at the HIV Legal Network and Toronto Metropolitan University have released Points of Perspective, the very first national independent study of Canada’s “Prison Needle Exchange Program” (PNEP). It is based on interviews with people formerly incarcerated in federal prisons across the country and provides an overview of the PNEP … Read more

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