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Canada is experiencing an overdose crisis caused by a volatile drug supply. The unpredictability of the market combined with incredibly potent synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and fentanyl analogues (eg. carfentanil), but also now isotonitazene and etonitazene, has led to 20,000 overdoses in the past 6 years. Many people who use drugs (PWUD), healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers and even politicians have advocated for legalization.


Legalization of illegal drugs is defined by the CCSA as the removal of criminal sanctions for drug possession*, the production and distribution of drugs for recreational use is regulated by the government. Such examples include, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and most recently cannabis (e.g. minimum age of purchase, certain standards on production, labelling and marketing). Whereas decriminalization does not regulate the drug market itself, legalization seeks to formally regulate the market. Canada and Uruguay have formally legalized cannabis, and Bolivia has legalized coca (but not cocaine). Outside of these exceptions, legalization for other drugs has yet to be tried since international prohibitionist policies began in the early & mid 20th century. As one CRISM member stated:

I personally believe that we should be able to buy drugs with all the consumer protection that people get when they buy nicotine or alcohol and that’s how I would like to see it. You know, the fact of, you know, the actual prohibition, is the part that makes everything to be allowed to do anything and everything.

Political pushback comes from the same morals-based arguments as decriminalization, but with even stronger vigor. Legalization often brings connotations of the government condoning and enabling the use of drugs, which to many seems too radical. Further, whereas decriminalization is not a violation of international law,  arguably legalization is. That being said, Canada is already violating international law since it has legalized cannabis. Further, there is an option for countries, like Canada, to amend international treaties in order to allow for legalization, known as “inter se modification”. The Transnational Institute has an explanation here:

*A note that youth are still in some ways criminalized under the cannabis act.

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