Legault says Quebec has no plans to decriminalize small-scale possession of illicit drugs

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Quebec Premier François Legault says his government 'doesn't think it's necessary' to decriminalize drugs, but advocates say it would help prevent harm. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Premier François Legault says his government 'doesn't think it's necessary' to decriminalize drugs, but advocates say it would help prevent harm. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Without going into much detail, Quebec Premier François Legault made it clear on Wednesday that his government will not be following in the footsteps of British Columbia, which is decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs.

"We don't think that it's necessary in Quebec," he said.

On Tuesday morning it was announced that British Columbians 18 and older will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within the province as of Jan. 31 next year.

Some Montreal groups that work with drug addicts say the rule should apply to all provinces.

"We had our worst year last year for overdoses in Quebec and we need to fight this way more than we do now," said Martin Pagé, executive director of Dopamine, a harm reduction group that helps people with addictions in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood.

Pagé said his group still sees about one overdose a week. He said a better solution would be to legalize hard drugs, control what goes into them and provide support to people with addictions.

Toronto and Montreal have also applied for federal exemptions to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs. The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has thrown its backing behind the move.

However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has voiced his opposition to decriminalization, saying it wouldn't be the "silver bullet" that advocates suggest.

'Wave of loss' in British Columbia

In B.C., decriminalization means there will be no arrests, charges or seizures for personal possession at or below the 2.5-gram threshold. B.C. saw 2,224 suspected toxic illicit drug overdose deaths in 2021 and more than 9,400 since 2016.

In Quebec, there were 339 deaths caused by drug intoxication between January and September in  2021. This is less than the number recorded during that same period last year but remains above pre-pandemic levels.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

B.C.'s three-year decriminalization plan was announced this week in Vancouver by federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart, Sheila Malcolmson.

"For far too long, this wave of loss has been a reality in British Columbia and across the country," Bennett said on Tuesday.

"Today, we take the first steps in the much-needed bold action and significant policy change."

Plante supports decriminalization 

It's a policy change Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she can get behind. She said on Wednesday that the city has always been sensitive to people with drug addictions and has supported supervised injection sites.

"We have shown interest in talking with the federal [government] because we're seeing people struggling and suffering and we want to put the right tools together to support these people while making sure our communities are safe for everybody," she said.

Louis Letellier de St-Just is an advocate with CACTUS Montréal which, among its services, offers a supervised injection site for drug users.

He said people often thank him for providing the space, but overdoses are still happening in the community. He wants to see B.C.'s new policy applied nationwide, he said.

"It will lower the pressure on drug users," he said. "It will give us much more impact on services and help that we could give to drug users here in Montreal and there's lots of here."

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