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B.C. drug decriminalization welcomed by Edmonton, challenged by Alberta


The prime minister says he is willing to work with the City of Edmonton toward decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs to reduce drug poisonings but would require provincial support.

In April, city council passed a motion 11-2 to draft an application to Ottawa seeking an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would allow small amounts of illicit substances for personal use.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced British Columbia would be the first province in Canada to allow the carrying of up to 2.5 grams of certain drugs like opioids, methamphetamine, and cocaine starting Jan. 31, 2023.

If a person is found in possession of those substances, they would not be subject to arrest or charges, and the drugs would not be seized. Instead, if requested, police will provide information on available services and supports for addiction.

"We have heard Edmonton and Toronto are very interested in moving forward as well," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "We are going to sit down with them, but it will be challenging to do to be completely honest without some support from the provincial governments."

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says he will be closely watching what happens with decriminalization in British Columbia.

"I look forward to hearing more details about what has been announced," he said. "It is not the solution itself, but it's part of the solution."

Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, told CTV News Edmonton in an interview on Thursday, that if the city moved forward with an application to decriminalize drugs he would consider possible legal options.

"We'd be exploring all the tools in the toolbox," Ellis said. "This government is focused on treating the illness of addiction as a health-care issue. That's why we are creating a comprehensive system of care, a recovery-oriented system of care, where we are helping people so they can live happy, healthy lives.

"There is no evidence that I am aware of that decriminalization alone would lead to any reduction in opioid fatalities or any form of criminal activity," Ellis added.

"What we don't want to see is a free for all of open-air drug use. We don't want to see a free for all of open-air drug trafficking."

Avnish Nanda, Edmonton lawyer, said other than a potential constitutional challenge, it's not clear what the province could do to stop the city from pursuing decriminalization.

"The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over the criminal law powers with respect to drugs and prohibitions on drugs," he said.

Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday that the federal government should spend more time and effort on the "interdiction of dangerous and lethal drugs."

Kenney said the decision represents a “slippery slope” and other provinces should have been consulted prior to the announcement as it will have national implications.

"There is no doubt we are dealing with an opioid and addictions crisis," Kenney said. "Which is why Alberta has made unprecedented investments in providing a continuum of care with increased support for people coping with addictions.

"That continuum of care involves a responsible degree of harm reduction programs but also a massive expansion of treatment and recovery opportunities," he added.

In downtown Edmonton and Calgary, the premier says there has been "de facto" decriminalization for several years.

"There are a tiny number of criminal charges and prosecutions laid against people for simple possession," he said. "Alberta's government will do what's necessary to support people coping with addictions but also to maintain public safety." Top Stories

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