Alberta not planning to decriminalize illicit drugs: province

Could Alberta follow in the footsteps of B.C. when it comes to decriminalizing small possession of illicit drugs? Alberta’s police chiefs would like to see that happen, but only with certain frameworks put in place first.

By Toula Mazloum and The Canadian Press

The Alberta government tells CityNews it believes it can “treat addiction as a health care issue while keeping communities safe,” adding it “should never have to choose between the two.”

The province’s comments come after Alberta’s police chiefs said it would be “incredibly premature” to think about decriminalizing drugs.

The Alberta government adds it is bringing community leaders together with officials to form “community response task force teams” to oversee Alberta’s “recovery-oriented system of addiction and mental health care.”

“These task forces will take a multi-pronged approach in addressing addiction and homelessness in Alberta’s biggest cities,” reads the statement.

In addition, the government says it is committed to supporting vulnerable people in their journey for recovery, through its investments in different programs and initiatives, while working on improving the province’s health-care system.

Meanwhile, the province’s police chiefs say, instead, there must be a systemic and ordered approach in place prioritizing community safety, before considering such a strategy.

A paper, commissioned by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, and released at a recovery conference in Calgary, says problematic use of substances is a complex social issue that needs more than one solution.

The research, led by the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance, says the idea of decriminalizing simple possession of illicit substances has generated considerable debate in Canada.

It adds there have been growing calls for decriminalization since British Columbia got a federal exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow for the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.


On the other hand, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police have supported decriminalization, as part of an integrated set of reforms.

In addition, Mark Neufeld, president of the Alberta chiefs association and Calgary’s police chief, says social agencies, health-care providers, and the justice system must work together to solve this complicated problem.

“Balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the community is no easy task,” he said in a news release Wednesday. “People’s lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we have to get this right.”

Edmonton police chief, Dale McFee, said addiction crisis has no single fix.

“We have to stop trying to ad hoc our way out of this crisis by rushing to ideas like decriminalization, which will actually exacerbate challenges.”

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