On January 26, Law Students for Decriminalization and Harm Reduction and the Vancouver Chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) co-hosted an online panel to discuss the need for reforms of drug policy in British Columbia.
The panel included representatives from various organizations, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the Pivot Legal Society, the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), and the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), all of which are involved in defending the rights and needs of drug users.
The discussion raised questions about the meaning of drug decriminalization, the role stigma plays, experiences with materials, compassion clubs and providing counseling to communities struggling with drug addiction.
Vince Tao, a community organizer with VANDU, currently sits on the steering committee of the Vancouver Tenants Union and says it’s a complicated issue and that “decriminalization is not exactly what it sounds like”.
“When the city announced it would be decriminalizing petty drug possession in November 2020, VANDU and the Pivot Legal Society sent a message saying, ‘We applaud the city’s steps towards decriminalization, but we have recommended a complete decriminalization. That means there’s no threshold as to how much petty possession should be…that’s not exactly what they did,” Tao says.
The thresholds of the City of Vancouver in its request for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act starting May 28, include two grams for opioids such as heroin and fentanyl and three grams for cocaine.
Caitlin Shane, an attorney with the Pivot Legal Society who is currently running its drug policy campaign, says the city has not listened to the demands of people who use drugs.
“That’s not to say they didn’t have the opportunity, they just ignored drug users when they knew very clearly what they wanted and needed in this model,” says Shane.
“For any type of liberation movement to succeed, you must strive to empower the most disempowered subset…and that’s where you really begin to build a powerful movement, when you take care of those who need it the most,” says Jeremy Kalicum. , public health student, activist and organizer of the DULF.
According to CDSAthe Minister of Health may approve exemptions for any person or class of persons or any controlled substance if, in his opinion, “the exemption is necessary for medical or scientific purposes, or is otherwise in the public interest”.
On November 1, the provincial government announcement he had also applied for a federal CDSA exemption with a “amount of cumulative binding threshold at 4.5 gfor possession of opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine.
The amount is based on self-reported data from previous studies as well as the results of an early 2021 survey conducted in partnership with VANDU “to generate additional insights regarding daily use and shopping habits.”
Law enforcement and health officials were also consulted on the thresholds.
The data of a published report by the BC Coroners Service on December 9 shows that 2021 has the highest number of “presumed deaths related to illicit drug toxicity…ever recorded in a calendar year” in British Columbia, with 1,782 people dying between January and October 2021. At 201 deaths, October saw the highest number of deaths ever recorded in a month.
Last year, 71% of those who died were between the ages of 30 and 59, and 79% were men.
“There’s so much trauma that happens, and a lot of addiction comes from trauma, from when you’re really, really young, and the only way to cope half the time is to use or drink, and that’s really sad to hear,” said Delilah Gregg, WAHRS Vice President and VANDU Board Member.
“I believe that people who stigmatize substance use need to stop and accept people for who they are.”