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

POINTS OF PERSPECTIVE: RESEARCH REPORT ON THE FEDERAL PRISON NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAM IN CANADA

Despite ample empirical evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of needle and syringe programs, the federal Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) refused for decades to implement this essential prison harm reduction program. After years of inaction, in 2012 the HIV Legal Network along with Steve Simons, a man formerly incarcerated in a federal prison, and three HIV … Read more

Legal Network News – November 1, 2022

Introducing Our New Podcast: Not a Crime Today, on International Drug Users Day, we will begin sharing stories of criminalization from around the world through our new podcast, Not a Crime. Featuring interviews with our policy analysts along with people working farther afield, Not a Crime will highlight the impact of criminalization on people living … Read more

Rights Within Reach: Strategic Plan 2022-2027

The HIV Legal Network promotes the human rights of people living with HIV or AIDS and other populations disproportionately affected by HIV and criminalization, in Canada and internationally. In 2021, we undertook a planning process that would shape the strategic goals and priorities for the organization’s next five years (2022-2027). To do this, we sought … Read more

Rights Within Reach: Strategic Plan 2022-2027, Executive Summary

In 2021, the HIV Legal Network undertook a planning process that would shape the strategic goals and priorities for the organization’s next five years (2022-2027). To do this, we sought the input of a broad range of stakeholders, from partner organizations to people living with and affected by HIV and criminalization, to staff. All identified … Read more

Provider-Assisted Injection in Ontario’s Supervised Consumption Services: Frequently Asked Questions

Supervised consumption services (SCS) are an effective intervention to reduce the harms associated with drug prohibition and a toxic drug supply. SCS increase access to health care, promote safer consumption, and prevent overdoses and other health complications. An SCS may support multiple forms of drug consumption, including consumption by injection, inhalation (smoking), oral, and intranasal … Read more

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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

MEDIA STATEMENT: A RENEWED CALL FOR DRUG DECRIMINALIZATION ON INTERNATIONAL OVERDOSE AWARENESS DAY (IOAD) 2022

A RENEWED CALL FOR DRUG DECRIMINALIZATION ON INTERNATIONAL OVERDOSE AWARENESS DAY (IOAD) 2022 For immediate release August 31st, 2022 — Toronto — On International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), the HIV Legal Network remembers the lives of our friends, family, and community members who have been taken too soon due to the drug poisoning crisis. We … Read more

MEDIA STATEMENT: “WE NEED DECRIMINALIZATION FOR ALL”: DRUG POLICY & HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SAY MODEL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA LEAVES MANY BEHIND

“WE NEED DECRIMINALIZATION FOR ALL”: DRUG POLICY & HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SAY MODEL IN BRITISH COLUMBIA LEAVES MANY BEHIND Health Canada’s landmark approval of “decriminalization” for B.C. raises concerns that many people who use drugs remain criminalized For immediate release June 1, 2022 – A growing group of drug policy and human rights organizations across Canada — comprising … Read more

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