A harm reduction worker with personal experience of Canada’s opioid crisis accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not going far enough to combat the overdose epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives across the country.
Zoë Dodd has lost five friends and 30 people she works with this year because of the opioid crisis, fuelled by contaminated street drugs across the country, she told the crowd at a VICE Canada exclusive talk with Trudeau on his plan to legalize weed.
“We are here to talk about the legalization of cannabis, and yet we are in this national devastating crisis. It is a significant loss,” she said to Trudeau, adding that 1,400 people in B.C. alone have overdosed and died over the last 14 months. “So my question to you, Mr. prime minister is will you legalize all drugs so that we can end the overdose epidemic and save lives?”
Trudeau held fast to his previous stance against legalizing or decriminalizing any other drugs beyond cannabis, and defended his government’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis, including making it easier to open safe injection sites and import bulk quantities of prescription heroin for severe addicts.
“We made a commitment and we got a mandate to legalize marijuana to protect our kids, to protect Canadians, to make sure that we’re removing the criminal elements from that,” he told Dodd at the event, which also included a 22-year-old facing cannabis possession charges, and a former owner of an illegal dispensary.
But that didn’t satisfy Dodd, who repeated that Trudeau’s government isn’t doing enough. “The bodies keep mounting,” she said. “We need millions of dollars. I am a frontline worker who’s not been on her job the last 6 weeks because people keep dying around me and I am completely traumatized because we don’t have the resources to do our work.”
She also implored the prime minister to look to places like Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2000, as an example. “Be brave,” she said. “You talk about the safety of children, you talk about the safety of youth. It is young people who are dying and it’s young people who elected you.”
When pressed again about decriminalizing other drugs, Trudeau quashed any hope he would reconsider.
“I’m not there yet,” he said.
The event that also included Bill Blair, Toronto’s former police chief and the Liberals’ point person on the legislation they tabled earlier this month to make marijuana legal for recreational use. He also rejected the idea that decriminalization would work. “The evidence is not strong,” Blair said.
Dodd is among many critics who have been urging the Liberals to decriminalize other drugs as a harm reduction method, or if not, call for a moratorium on all new cannabis possession charges between now and when the drug is legalized sometime before July of 2018.
However, Trudeau has shut down that option, too, saying that providing amnesty for new criminal charges — and pardons for past cannabis possession convictions — would go against his goal of strictly regulating cannabis, and keeping it out of the hands of children and organized crime.
“The only people who are going to be growing and allowing to sell it will be criminals themselves,” he argued. “It’s still going to be organized crime, Hells’ Angels controlling the sale of marijuana and we don’t want that.”