City of Vancouver calls for decriminalization of drug possession


With overdose deaths once again on the rise in Vancouver, the city is calling on the federal government to immediately decriminalize the personal possession of all drugs.


Managing director of social policy, Mary Clare Zak, says this is a new position for the city, but it is consistent with Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy.

“What we’ve learned from countries, for example like Portugal, is that when you decriminalize then people are feeling like they’re actually safe enough to ask for treatment,” she said.

“People who are dying are more likely to be indoors and struggle with accessing help or assistance because of their illicit drug use.”

Zak says the city also recommends the following actions:

  • Rapidly roll out funding for evidence-based treatment programs.
  • Support the scale up of innovative programs that provide access to safe opioids for those most at risk for overdose.
  • Support the de-stigmatization programs that are co-led by people with lived experience of substance use.
  • Continue to roll out innovative overdose prevention services in areas where users remain isolated.

‘We need to do something’

Vancouver saw 33 overdose deaths in January, which was the city’s highest total since May of last year.

Zak says there has been a steady increase in fatal overdoses since October.

“We need to do something,” Zak said.

“We need to make sure we have a clean drug supply for people who are struggling with addiction and I think decriminalization is a big part of that. It’s about making people safe.”

The federal government is expected to unveil legislation this summer to legalize marijuana, but the federal Liberals do not support decriminalizing other drugs.

“Decriminalizing harder drugs is not a step that Canada is looking at taking at this point,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a town hall meeting in Edmonton last month.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in Vancouver last year that he supports decriminalizing personal possession of all drugs.