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It’s too soon to support drug decriminalization: Alberta police chiefs

Click to play video: 'Alberta police chiefs says it’s too soon support drug decriminalization as cities push for change'
Alberta police chiefs says it’s too soon support drug decriminalization as cities push for change
city councillor Michael Janz is hoping Edmonton will join other cities to push Ottawa to decriminalize minor drugs offences. But as Chris Chacon explains, some police forces don't welcome the plan – Jan 20, 2022

The association that represents Alberta police chiefs says it’s too soon to decriminalize illicit drugs.

Calgary Chief Const. Mark Neufeld, president of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, says a number of things need to be in place before decriminalization can be seriously considered.

“We’re not ready,” Neufeld said at a news conference Thursday.

“We do not believe the necessary health supports, including immediately accessible treatment services, are presently available.”

British Columbia applied to the federal government in November to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

The province argued that substance abuse and addiction is a public health issue, not a criminal one.

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Click to play video: 'Toronto’s top doctor looks to decriminalize drug use, move in line with B.C.'
Toronto’s top doctor looks to decriminalize drug use, move in line with B.C.

Since B.C. declared a public health emergency in 2016, 7,700 British Columbians have died because of a toxic drug supply.

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Toronto’s board of health said it would also seek permission from the federal government to allow drug users to carry small amounts for personal use.

“We’re aware that other provinces have submitted requests to Health Canada seeking an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would decriminalize personal possession of illicit drugs. These are conversations that are ongoing in our province as well,” said Neufeld.

“I’m not concerned that this is moving forward in any way that’s imminent. It is a discussion that has been ongoing for the last number of years, which has been intensified obviously by the drug poisonings and opioid overdoses.”

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Almost 1,400 people died from substance-related overdoses in Alberta between January and October 2021 — a 26 per cent increase over the same time period the previous year.

Neufeld said decriminalization alone wouldn’t reduce addiction or overdose rates. There needs to be a connection between law enforcement and public health so that people who need help can get it, he said.

“Police in our province are already operating in what is effectively a decriminalized environment. Alberta police officers generally do not charge individuals found with small quantities of illicit drugs unless there are aggravating factors present,” he said.

“Any effort toward decriminalization must also include the establishment of an array of diversionary options that front line police officers could access to connect people who use drugs with health and recovery-oriented supports.”

The Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police represents 7,500 officers.

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