decriminalization drugs

More and more drug charges are being dropped as Toronto considers decriminalization

As the City of Toronto moves forward with decriminalizing carrying certain substances for personal use, charges pertaining to drug possession across the province are being dropped at unprecedented rates, according to new data.

An analysis by the CBC, released today, shows that in the last year, a whopping 85 per cent of possession charges in the province have been withdrawn or stayed before going to court, compared with just 45 per cent in the year earlier.

Though this is in part due to delays and a massive backlog in the system caused by COVID-19, it also comes amid renewed talks of decriminalization, including from Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.

The province's largest metropolis is currently assessing an alternative model to how it deals with drugs, and has vowed to take a public health approach to their use, rather than a police-based one.

The Toronto Board of Health is calling for the Federal Minister of Health to focus instead on harm reduction and treatment services, asking for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would mean possession for amounts that are for the individual's own use, not for trafficking, would no longer be a punishable offence in T.O.

"A Toronto model for decriminalization will be rooted in a public health approach, with an emphasis on ensuring that people who use drugs who are most at risk of criminalization because of their drug use are involved in the development of the model, that risk mitigation be incorporated throughout, and that best practices and evidence are used to inform the final submission to Health Canada," the city says.

It has also set up a survey to get the public's opinion on the topic, asking what the objectives of the new drug policy should be, what role police should have in responding to drug calls and what measures residents feel should be implemented to reduce substance abuse harms — all information it will take into account for its appeal to Ottawa.

It is noteworthy that federal prosecutors were this time last year directed to only prosecute drug possession cases if they believed that public safety was a concern.

Among other less obvious but equally devastating effects that the pandemic has had on public health, overdose-related ER visits and deaths were drastically up in Ontario in 2020.

Lead photo by

Phil Marion

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