11/26/2020 11:36 EST

Vancouver Council Unanimously Endorses Motion To Decriminalize Drug Possession

There have been more than 1,500 overdose deaths in Vancouver since a provincial overdose emergency was declared four years ago.

seksan Mongkhonkhamsao via Getty Images

VANCOUVER — Councillors in Vancouver have voted unanimously to ask the federal government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart put forward the motion earlier this month saying it is time to develop a “health-focused” approach to substance use and end the stigma against drug users.

In a statement issued late Wednesday after the vote, Stewart thanked groups such as the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, which he says have pursued decriminalization for years.

In the same process used to create its first supervised injection clinic almost two decades ago, city staff will now write to federal officials, including the ministers of health and justice, seeking an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

If approved, Stewart says Vancouver will work with the police department, Vancouver Coastal Health, community groups and people who have lived experience with drug use to determine how decriminalization should be approved.

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The city’s support for decriminalization came on the same day the BC Coroners Service issued a report documenting 162 illicit drug deaths across the province in October, amounting to five every day, including one daily in Vancouver.

Stewart says Vancouver is ready to again lead the way on drug policy in order to save lives.

“With more than 1,500 deaths in Vancouver since a provincial overdose emergency was declared in April 2016, and an estimated 329 overdose deaths in the City of Vancouver so far this year, 2020 is on track to be the worst year yet for overdoses and this new approach is urgently needed,” Stewart says in the statement.

Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, has said decriminalization alone won’t solve the drug crisis, but will complement expanded harm reduction and treatment services, including the province’s safe supply program.

Decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs and other mesaures also have the support of Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Vancouver Police Department.

There’s no indication how long the federal government might take to review Vancouver’s plan once it is submitted, but Stewart has said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is a champion of harm reduction and has the authority to move quickly.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.