Decriminalizing drugs for personal use would help people find help, keep jobs: Sask. advocate
SASKATOON -- Advocates are asking the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners to support the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.
Marie Agioritis and others have penned letters to the police board, which is meeting Thursday, asking them to consider this step towards changing laws around drug possession.
Agioritis, the Saskatchewan leader for Moms Stop the Harm, told CTV News that decriminalization could help alleviate the pressures felt by the criminal justice system and give those with mental health issues and addictions a chance to seek help.
“When we decriminalize simple possession we haven’t got people running away from the police or being afraid to walk into an emergency room when they need help, or being afraid to walk into recovery services,” Agioritis said.
“Imagine you’re a young guy and you’re afraid to go forward because you could lose your job or you might lose certain benefits as a result,” Agioritis said.
Those caught with drugs for personal use are tagged with a criminal record after an arrest and that could make it almost impossible to find employment she said.
She said mental health and addictions span across all age ranges and backgrounds.
“We need to quit criminalizing them because it’s not working, the deaths are going up, the crime rates are going up and the stress on our police officers is going up. We need to change it up,” she said.
The board issued a notice of motion calling on city police to look at evidence-based approaches to expanded harm reductions in other jurisdictions.
Those include decriminalization, safe supply and increased diversion of drug-related charges that could improve the drug crisis in Saskatoon.
In November, Vancouver City Council unanimously voted to decriminalize simple drug possession.
Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said the motion will be discussed and voted on in August. Cooper added it’s important the police service along with its partners look at how it shifts drug possession from the criminal justice system to healthcare.
Cooper mentioned his office has received memos from public prosecutions to focus more attention on larger drug trafficking offences rather than simple drug possession, but charges still fall on simple possession if there are other criminal elements involved.
“If it was a simple solution it would be something that can happen quickly but we recognize that you can’t just simply decriminalize drug possession without having some other solution in place,” Cooper said.
The police board heard how the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is already endorsing a federal criminal code amendment for simple possession.
The federal New Democratic Party has also tabled a bill in Ottawa that would decriminalize an array of drugs as well as give Canadians the opportunity to clear criminal record convictions for drug possession.
Agioritis wants Saskatoon police to show its support to Ottawa favouring simple possession decriminalization.
The board received the letters as information.
Mayor Charlie Clark posted to his social media this week voicing his support for a similar decriminalization proposal happening in Vancouver.