Waterloo regional council to vote on whether to endorse decriminalization of illicit drugs

FILE - This June 17, 2019, file photo shows five-milligram pills of oxycodone. AP Photo/Keith Srakocic,

Waterloo regional council will vote on Wednesday night on whether to advocate that the upper levels of government decriminalize simple possession of illicit drugs in an effort to combat the opioid crisis.

In 2020 and 2021, there were 205 opioid-related deaths in Waterloo Region, with another 24 victims over the first four months of 2022, according to the Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy’s (WRIDS) website.

The WRIDS steering committee has prepared a report with several options that council will consider on Wednesday night, with the preferred option being to decriminalize simple possession with expanded access to health interventions.

The list of health interventions would include safer supply programs as well as increased investment in prevention and treatment programs.

Story continues below advertisement

The report says that while safer supply programs are still in their infancy, they have proven to cut down on overdoses, reduce hospital admissions and emergency room visits, and decrease criminal activity, among other things.

It says issues with safer supply programs are the strength of the drugs and limited access due to lengthy waiting lists.

The second option the WRIDS report offers is to endorse decriminalization of simple possession without the added health measures.

The report warns that “the limitation of decriminalization alone is that it does not address the supply of toxic drugs.”

Another possibility from the WRIDS report would be legalization with regulation but the report says there is limited data to support this so further studies are needed.

The final option the report suggests would be to leave the issue as is, which would not do anything to deal with the current opioid crisis.

“The complete criminalization/prohibition of drugs disproportionally affects Indigenous, black and other racialized and marginalized populations and perpetuates stigma, discrimination and over incarceration of people who use drugs,” the WRIDS report says.

If council chooses to endorse the first option as recommended by WRIDS, its hands are tied as far as implementing any real plan.

Story continues below advertisement

“In recognition that drug policy is ultimately a federal issue, as a next step, Regional Council could advocate to the federal and provincial governments for decriminalization of simple possession and increased investment in health interventions including, prevention, harm reduction, and treatment programs,” the report concludes.

The region would be far from the first municipality to endorse the strategy as many large and small municipalities across Canada have already done, such as Vancouver, Kingston, Ont., Haliburton, Ont., and Lennox and Addington, Ont., as well as public health units in Toronto, Ottawa and the Pine Ridge District.

Sponsored content