Decriminalization a ‘good first step’ in destigmatizing drug use, says CUPE Health Care Presidents Council

On June 1, 2022 the CUPE Health Care Presidents Council released the following statement:

VANCOUVER—Yesterday’s announcement that the federal government plans to decriminalize small-scale possession of illicit drugs in B.C. represents a long-overdue policy shift away from stigmatizing substance use and instead addressing drug addiction as a health issue, says CUPE’s Health Care Presidents Council (HCPC).Starting next year, Canadians aged 18 years and older will be able to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA within British Columbia. This exemption from the law criminalizing drug possession means there will be no arrests, charges or seizures for personal possession at or below the 2.5-gram threshold.

The new federal policy follows a request from the provincial government for an exemption. Both federal and provincial ministers for mental health and addictions, Carolyn Bennett and Sheila Malcolmson, respectively, announced the policy shift together at yesterday’s media conference.

“CUPE health care workers are encouraged by this first step in addressing the opioid crisis that many of our members have been working for years to combat. It’s a good first step,” said HCPC chair Tuesday Andrich.

“We have been calling for just such a policy change for a very long time, so it’s good to see all levels of government taking the issue seriously. This kind of collaboration is difficult, but the united front that B.C. and Ottawa have shown demonstrates that all levels of government can work together to effect positive change.”

Andrich added that much more work needs to be done to address the poisoned drug supply crisis in B.C.

“Now that we are seeing this change around decriminalization, let’s see if they can do it on the safe supply issue,” she said.

“Many people still hide their addiction and use drugs alone, and with an epidemic of illicit drug toxicity, this can mean dying alone. Evidence-based research—and our own experience in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island—tells us that safe supply will have the greatest impact on saving lives, and CUPE will continue to advocate for these necessary changes.”