We should fight drug abuse as a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem

Tobacco is a dangerous product that we discourage everyone from using. But we don’t make it illegal to purchase cigarettes or possess them. So why do we use the criminal justice system to punish people who use other hazardous substances like recreational drugs?

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a point: we should treat the opioid crisis like a public health challenge, not a matter for the justice system to resolve. Decriminalizing drugs doesn’t mean making them legal and having them sold in corner stores. And it doesn’t mean telling people they are safe. It just means people won’t get charged for possession. And it might make it easier for people with addictions to get help.

Decriminalizing drugs certainly makes more sense than the federal government’s approach to marijuana, which is to tell everyone it’s harmful and discourage its use at the same time as the province opens a chain of retail locations and an online store to sell it directly to us. It’s time for a different approach. As the opioid crisis proves, the current one isn’t working.

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