Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has announced a plan to decriminalize simple possession of drugs in the city through a federal health exemption.
If approved by the federal government, Vancouver would be the first Canadian jurisdiction to do so.
“Personal possession and use of drugs is not a criminal justice issue, it is a health issue,” Stewart said in a statement.
“It is time to end the stigma around substance use, help connect more of our neighbours to health care, and save lives.”
The move to decriminalize simple possession has “come from the grassroots up,” said Stewart, who pledged to include people with lived experience with illicit drug use as the details of the city’s plan to decriminalize are worked out.
“There are some things that I can’t control and that is the limits that the federal government would put on any exemption, although I can definitely advocate for what the community thinks should happen.”
The move is backed by B.C. Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical health officer Dr. Patricia Daly, who said time is of the essence given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police also called for the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs.
If passed by council, Stewart’s motion would direct the City to write to federal officials to request an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize personal possession of illicit substances within city boundaries for medical purposes.
Stewart said he didn’t know how long it would take for the federal government to sign off on the city’s plan but said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is a champion of harm reduction and she has the authority to move quickly to grant the request.
— With files from The Canadian Press