Toronto Council Votes to Endorse Drug Decriminalization

Toronto City Council voted to endorse the Vienna Declaration on Thursday, raising a loud voice against the war on drugs.

“The war against drugs has failed,” said city councillor Kyle Rae, who brought the declaration to council after attending the AIDS 2010 international conference this July, where it was announced. “In every jurisdiction and in every community, we know that policing this issue is not enough.”

The principles of the declaration favour a public health approach to dealing with drug addicts, rather than enforcing ever-stricter drug laws, which advocates say doesn’t work, and in fact can cause greater harm.

“Just as clearly as we know HIV is the cause of AIDS, we know the war on drugs doesn’t achieve its stated objectives and contributes to a range of harms, including the spread of HIV,” said Dr. Evan Wood, a research physician who studies infectious disease at the University of British Columbia, and who chaired the writing committee.

Each HIV patient costs the Canada health-care system $250,000, Dr. Wood said.

“The Canadian health-care system is groaning under the weight of the downstream consequences of drug addiction and our real bumbling policies to address it,” he said.

A public health approach to addiction typically includes methadone clinics, safe injection or consumption sites, and the decriminalization of drugs, as recommended by the United Nations and World Health Organization.

“We know, using the U.S. as a case study, that about $2.5-trillion has been spent trying to reduce the supply of drugs in the States. Despite that effort, drugs are more freely and easily available than they have been at any time in our history,” Dr. Wood said. “The purity has gone up, the price has gone down. Basically, every indicator shows that the problem is getting worse. Huge sums of money have been spent on tough-on-drugs approaches like our being proposed by our federal government.”

Dr. Wood acknowledged Toronto’s endorsement could “release a hornet’s nest of controversy.” A feasibility study on a safe consumption site in Toronto erupted in controversy when it was announced last year, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he wants to shut down Insite, Vancouver’s safe injection site. This month, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day faced criticism for his $9-billion plan to build more prisons in Canada. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced new police powers to crack down on organized crime like gambling, drugs and prostitution, including tighter parole and bail restrictions, and harsher minimum sentences for drug trafficking.

But the Vienna Declaration is a movement to end all that. It reads:

“The criminalisation of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences. A full policy reorientation is needed.”

Dr. Wood said that the purpose is to encourage an approach that uses the evidence collected by criminologists, scientists, doctors and economists to assess how drug laws affect other social policies.

“If we realize the overemphasis on law enforcement doesn’t achieve its stated objectives, contributes to a range of harms and basically wastes taxpayers’ dollars, then we need a complete paradigm shift,” he said. “Drug law enforcement displaces public health approaches and drives people to the margins of society where HIV is spread, overdoses happen, violence happens.”

Portugal decriminalized drug use ten years ago and today has the lowest rate of cannabis use in the EU and lower overdose and HIV infection rates.

Holland, which has famously lax drug laws, has a lower marijuana consumption rate than Canada, Dr. Wood said.

There are jurisdictions that are beginning to realize that throwing hundreds of billions of dollars, over the last 20 years, at policing this issue, has tragically failed. There needs to be other approaches, Mr. Rae said.

But embracing the Vienna Declaration does not mean Toronto is any closer to its own safe consumption site, said Councillor Gord Perks, chair of the Toronto Drug Strategy board.

It’s a declaration, not a prescription,² Mr. Perks said. It would simply reinforce the existing Toronto Drug Strategy. For example, Public Health workers already hand out safe crack kits to prevent the spread of hepatitis and have numerous other programs for drug users.

Mr. Rae said he had not heard from Toronto police or city councils in other cities today after the 33-7 vote was announced.

In September, Dr. Wood and his colleagues plan to send letters to political figures around the world to ask them for an endorsement as well. The Declaration was drafted by international scientists and experts and has been endorsed by more than 16,000 people including some Nobel laureates, UN special envoy Stephen Lewis and the former presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico.

– Article from The National Post.



  1. Anonymous on

    Not even I make the rules Harper can get it past a trial judge if that judge is convinced by council that the defendant’s charter of rights has been violated. No political ideology takes precedent! At least not to date in Canada. Now Harper is doing his best to change our Charter of Rights to benefit the party not the people. But the next election is inevitable and Harper cannot win a majority! This failure will put Harper out of favor with even the rightest of right. In the eyes of many Harper has been a failure but you must give the man his kudos when it comes achieving the largest deficit in Canadian history. Leaving his second best achievement of spending more of the this deficit to the benefit of a very few close Conservative followers. This latter similarity to the Bush method of record spending will be Harper’s nemesis for the rest of Canadian Political History and like Bush he will stay hidden, too embarrassed to show his child like grin in public.

  2. Anonymous on

    Once the law is changed to include mandatory minimums, putting people who qualify for minimum jail time away is not arbitrary detention- its just everyday business of justice, 100 % legal

  3. Anonymous on

    Control. It simple. They want to control you. Cut and dry.

  4. Anonymous on

    Here’s why mandatory minimums for Cannabis are unconstitutional in Canada.

    9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

    52. (1) The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.

    Putting people in prison for simply growing a completely harmless plant is clearly arbitrary imprisonment. It doesn’t matter that the government SAYS it is dangerous and put it in a the CSA. They haven’t given any valid reason for doing that in the first place. It was an arbitrary act, based on nothing but the personal opinions of a bunch of ill informed idiots. The last time the law was challenged the Supreme Court judges brought out their favourite disinformation, that Cannabis induces schizophrenia. Well, that was based on invalid and outdated studies, which have now been proven erroneous. So what’s their excuse now? An arbitrary law has been held to be unconstitutional, because it violates the “fundamental principles of justice”. There is no reason why a prescription should even be required because it has no lethal dose or dangerous side effects. What, then, is the reason for requiring a prescription?

  5. Spanner McNeil on

    Toronto City Council are indeed Brave and Bold and made of the right stuff, headed in the right direction. However in certain Easter Ontario Ridings we have further to go. This month in SD & G country, an Eastern Ontario Riding, several families had their children kidnapped by child services because one or more parent smoke marijuana. This month in SD & G County Conservative MP Lauzon announced billions of dollars worth of prisons for the unreported crime of using marijuana. If you use marijuana your children will be taken from you and sold to strangers. If you use marijuana you will lose your job and your business followed by your house cause you will be serving minimum mandatory jail time and your business and house will be sold to strangers under Bill S-10. I wonder if all the people who use marijuana will be sent to a Warsaw ghetto by members of Parliament who follow orders without question? How many marijuana users will stop feeling guilty for who they are and their innocent behaviour behind closed doors that is of no consequence to anyone else? How important is it for the oldest generation in this country to hunt down young people like dogs? Why is it most Police Chiefs in Canada publicly and privately state that marijuana should be legalized? Why did 30 thousand police officers join ‘Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’? The answer is there isn’t anything even a little bit wrong with marijuana. Marijuana can however reveal those who are not fit to govern and have lost all moral right to authority because of their unbalanced hostile reaction to those who do use it. We must be concerned with Members of Parliament who have little access to science, logic and reason because they will ferment great and vast wrongs in other areas of our adult Canadian lives.–judge-slapped-for-bias-in-pot-case

  6. Anonymous on

    innocent people die every day, but they don’t leave a bill for a quarter of a million dollars behind for everybody else to pay. Needles and Sodomy are very expensive hobbies.

  7. Anonymous on

    Everyday innocent people die for marijuana, in the fields of hard drugs.
    While the public ignore or fail to realise the facts.
    Your children are part of your evidence, that your system never worked.
    And everyone rooting for pot. Would be a failure if Marc Emery was to become a target.
    In North America, death is common, the public, government. Don’t care, never happen. They let it happen, so innocent people fail to realise just as the government pretends we never had any problems in the whole world over the past 20 years, except 9/11.

  8. Anonymous on

    A quarter million dollars cost to society for every one who cannot grasp that perverted sex and injecting oneself w needles spreads the infection. Thats factual science. Make your choices and have fun, but know that the rest of us are tired of bankrolling millions of bad choices. Having perverted sex and using needles are choices, and if you judge by results: these are bad choices.
    Four HIV AIDs patients cost $1,000,000.00 – as much as keeping an entire high school of hundreds of healthy sane kids going for a whole year.

    Don’t make the rest of us choose to sustain the innocent & close the door on the rest.Please smarten up out there in bad choice land before you get to the door.

  9. Anonymous on

    Legalize marijuana and decriminalize the users of hard drugs. Day would be better off to spend 9 billion on treatment of hard drug abusers and leave the marijuana industry alone to flourish and grow! But, yeast we forget, that scientific fact, nor a majority vote will Harper let interfere with his archaic political ideological mentality that marijuana is no less damaging to society then the heroin, that with his support flowed out of Afghanistan in record quantities during the Bush Administration’s control of that war! As well as with input into the free trade agreement with Columbia that opens our borders to their number one export, cocaine. No, the intelligence of Harper and the Conservative Party is to build more prisons to house his tough on marijuana smokers crime bill. Good fight Toronto but the neo cons in Ottawa will not let this happen!