On Wednesday (Nov. 25), Vancouver, British Columbia became the first city in Canada to decriminalize all drugs. Vancouver’s city council unanimously voted on the measure to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal substances, from LSD to heroin, following in the footstep’s of Oregon, which became the first state in the U.S. to pass a similar measure at the ballot box this month.
Before the measure is official, it’ll need to be approved by Canada’s federal government. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart will submit a request to the federal ministers of health and justice for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, reports VICE News.
The measure was catalyzed by the rising—and devastating—overdose crisis in Vancouver, and British Columbia at-large. The vote follows a recent report from the B.C. Coroners Service which found 162 people died of drug toxicity and fentanyl across British Columbia in October, marking the eighth month in a row with more than 100 dead.
Criminal justice advocates have long pushed for the decriminalization of all drugs as a way to reduce stigma, decrease needless incarceration, and make rehabilitation and harm reduction resources more available to drug users. This distinguishes these measures from the campaigns to decriminalize just psychedelics, such as Decriminalize Nature—a decentralized group of advocates who have successfully decriminalized psychedelics in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, and Washington, D.C.—as well as Decriminalize Denver (now SPORE)—which passed a measure to decriminalize psilocybin in the county of Denver in May of 2019. These psychedelic measures are aimed at preventing prosecution for possession and use of psychedelics, but are also centered around the importance of access to psychedelics as promising mental health treatments.
Advocates both in the United States and Canada have looked to Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001, as a model and also a learning lesson for how measures to decriminalize all drugs can successfully be rolled out in the future. If the Canadian federal government approves Vancouver’s measure, the city will begin to map out what decriminalization will look like for its residents and how it will be implemented.