The failure of decriminalization is not proof it doesn’t work: Expert

By Matt Hutcheson

The rhetoric surrounding the issue of decriminalizing drug possession has ramped up in recent months after the federal government recently rejected a request from the City of Toronto to explore decriminalization and the B.C. government has rolled back its efforts amid ongoing overdose deaths.

Those who oppose the concept say because people continue to overdose, so the policy is a failure and should be abandoned. But experts say that just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how decriminalization is supposed to work.

Andrew Hathaway, Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Guelph told The Mike Farwell Show decriminalization was never intended to be a solution to the drug problem.

“It’s a critical first step in transitioning toward a public health approach to substance use,” he said. “The full approach means addressing the real services that offer real solutions for people in the grips of addiction.”

That means a robust public health system that focuses on the root causes of addiction, like homelessness and poverty, he said. And further ancillary systems that support people as they recover from addictions.

Hathaway said the lack of properly funded support is one of the main reasons decriminalization efforts failed in B.C. and fuels the notion that decriminalization is a failure.

Hathaway points to Portugal as a prime example of this. For two decades, the country has been a world leader in its approach to addictions. After decriminalizing all drugs, overdose deaths and addictions went down, primarily because of the country’s social support system. But after funding cuts undermined treatment programs, overdose deaths spiked.

Hathaway says half-measures won’t work and until governments are prepared to properly fund the social support component, decriminalization will continue to fail.

You can read more about Hathaway’s thoughts on decriminalization here.

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