Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

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Vancouver city officials and Health Canada are expected to begin formal discussions on the city's plan to decriminalize simple possession of illicit drugs, according to a statement from Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

The announcement comes at a time when Vancouver's overdose crisis has never been worse, with one person a day dying due to toxic drugs found on the streets, Stewart wrote Wednesday.

"This is another hopeful and critical milestone on the path toward fully embracing a health-focused approach to substance use in the City of Vancouver," the statement said.

In November, city council unanimously approved a motion to put the idea of decriminalization for possession of small amounts forward to the federal government.

In a response to CBC News, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Patty Hajdu said substance use is a health issue, not a moral one.

"Our approach has focused on harm reduction, including supporting the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, funding programs to divert people who use drugs from the criminal justice system, and enhancing access to safe consumption sites, safer supply, and expanded treatment options," spokesperson Cole Davidson wrote Wednesday.

Stewart said he is hopeful that the news from Ottawa will lead to fewer drug overdose deaths in the coming year.

If the bid is successful, Vancouver would become the first Canadian city to get this approval.

In December, a B.C. Coroners Service report showed 2020 was on track to become the deadliest year on the record for toxic drug overdoses. The service said 1,548 people died of an overdose in the first 11 months of the year, compared to 983 for all of 2019.