Treatment of substance use disorders demands more than decriminalization

Canada has rung in the new year by starting a trial period where people who possess 2.5 grams or less of hard drugs will not be criminalized. The drugs included in this new legislation are cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl and morphine. 

This trial period will last for three years, ending on Jan. 31, 2026. The goal of this legislation is to encourage people with substance use disorders (SUDs) to seek help without the fear of being penalized. People who are found in possession of these substances will be offered information on health and social services. While the possession of these drugs is decriminalized, the substances themselves are still illegal. 

This is not the only instance of this kind of decision. In the fall of 2020, the state of Oregon also set similar legislation called Measure 110. This law ensures that possession of a small amount of illegal drugs only warrants a civil citation and a fine of $100. 

However, two years later, a look into Oregon’s legislation showed that this step was not making enough progress in helping people with SUDs. Within the first year of this legislation becoming active, only 1% of people who were dealt a citation for possessing drugs sought help. Meanwhile, the positive effect of this legislation is the funding it has provided to facilities dedicated to helping those who struggle with addiction. 

Reports on Canada’s trial run do not mention anything about citations or fees that come with being found in possession of hard drugs. This can make one wonder what that means for the potential result of Canada’s trial run, if it is not accumulating funds as Oregon’s has been. 

There is a moral question that arises while looking at the positive side of Oregon’s legislation. At the end of the day, these measures are being authorized to help the suffering of addicts and the people in their lives. If money is being donated to places that help people with drug abuse, but people still are not taking the chance to get help, then there is no change being made. 

Rather than depend solely on encouraging people to get the help they need, it would be more direct to make people get the help they need. If possessing drugs was still criminalized in Canada, the charge would at maximum be a $1,000 fine as well as six months in prison. So, why not sentence them to time in rehab instead?

Instead of sending people to prison, where they may continue their habits with drug use depending on how properly maintained the jail and its occupants are, they can be legally required to go to rehab. The point of this legislation is to push the mindset that rehabilitation, not incarceration, is the answer.

This legislation is a step in the right direction. The mindset behind it is generally supportive of the community, as a government body should be. If Canada can help its people with fighting against drug addiction, it could be a monumental example for other countries of what to do when dealing with the issue. There just needs to be more enforcement for people to get help. Otherwise, efforts will be in vain.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Joseph Petty, Pexels