The ‘Vancouver model’ of drug decriminalization is deeply flawed, says national coalition

The ‘Vancouver model’ of drug decriminalization is deeply flawed, says national coalition

A national coalition of groups supporting drug decriminalization says the plan proposed by Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, known as the “Vancouver Model,” is deeply flawed because the people it is supposed to help do not ‘have never been accessed as promised.

“The mayor said that we would be involved throughout the design process. He said, this is my personal guarantee. So the question is – and I asked him the question – why not us?” said Garth Mullins of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

Groups say that if Vancouver – which seeks to be the first Canadian jurisdiction to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs – gets it wrong, it could set a terrible precedent for subsequent jurisdictions.

In November 2020, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a motion asking the federal government to exempt the Criminal Code provisions on simple drug possession, laying the groundwork for what is now the Vancouver model.

The move was aimed at recognizing drug use as a public health problem rather than a criminal matter, and was sparked by the increasingly toxic supply of drugs that currently kills more than five British Columbians a day.

On Tuesday, VANDU and its partners held a rally to draw attention to their concerns about the Vancouver model.

Most important of these is the threshold that the model sets for possession – in other words, the amount of drug that a person can be taken with and not trigger arrest or confiscation.

According to the coalition, the thresholds are far too low, which means that a substantial number of drug users would still be criminalized if the Vancouver model comes into effect in its current form.

A woman holds a sign during a protest against Vancouver’s proposed model for the decriminalization of illicit drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Tuesday. Supporters say police play an oversized role in shaping the model and that the thresholds that define simple possession are too low in the latest submission to Ottawa. (Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press)

“This is a serious question,” said Dr. Thomas Kerr, principal investigator at the BC Center on Substance Use. “If you are really concerned about tackling the harms of criminalization and want to advance a model of decriminalization, you are wasting your time setting thresholds this low.”

Kerr said the data used to set drug thresholds in the Vancouver model was collected in 2018, before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

“Just as more and more people are probably buying wholesale at Costco to avoid having to shop every week, I think drug users are doing similar things. They buy larger quantities, they buy for friends and partners and others to limit contact, ”he said.

“ Thresholds are a starting point, ” says mayor

Mayor Kennedy Stewart said officials “respect the views of VANDU and other groups.”

“The proposed thresholds are a starting point and will be monitored and evaluated as more data becomes available,” Stewart said in a statement.

He said the city’s request to Health Canada is based on local data – although VANDU says the numbers are out of date – and aims to reduce stigma to achieve a “wholly health-focused approach to drug consumption. substances ”.

“As with many pioneering projects, efforts must be made to find consensus among a variety of groups with often very different opinions,” added Stewart.

The coalition also strongly criticizes the involvement of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) in the creation of the Vancouver model. He said the goal of decriminalization should be to shield the police from political initiative, not to give them “a huge contribution”.

Mullins said the VPD was consulted on decriminalization thresholds, while his group was only consulted after the thresholds were established.

The groups are calling for police involvement to be completely cut off from any decriminalization planning. They also say it’s not too late for the mayor and the city to engage in meaningful consultation with voters who decriminalization will affect the most.

“Nothing about us without us,” Mullins said. “It’s not too late. We can fix this, but it’s on the wrong track.”

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