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Canada  

Decriminalize all drugs?

The war on drugs may move to a new battlefield in Canada, if Liberal MPs get their way: the 2019 federal election campaign.

They're pushing the Trudeau government to go much further than legalizing recreational marijuana. In a priority resolution they hope will be adopted at the Liberals' policy convention in April for inclusion in the next election platform, the national caucus is calling on the government to eliminate criminal penalties for simple possession and consumption of all illicit drugs.

Newly-minted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has taken a similar stance.

But the Conservatives, who have opposed many elements of the plan to legalize pot by July, are signalling that they would object to decriminalizing the use of other, harder drugs even more strenuously.

"The Conservatives haven't been satisfied or in any way pleased with what they're doing in the area of marijuana. I think it's going to be a complete mess in this country," Conservative justice critic Rob Nicholson said in an interview.

"That being said, to expand this ... to do anything that does anything except discourage people from taking opioids and strong drugs I think is a mistake," he added.

"If you're saying it's OK to consume this, you're not sending out the message here that this is a huge problem that tears families apart, destroys peoples' health, decreases the safety within this country. Because who's going to be providing them with this? These are the criminal elements."

Many Conservatives feared legalization of pot would be just the first step towards legalizing other, harder drugs. But Nicholson said he's frankly surprised that Liberal MPs aren't even waiting to see how legalizing cannabis works out before starting down that slippery slope.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly ruled out legalization of drugs other than cannabis. He has not so far commented on the resolution advanced by his own caucus, which does not actually go so far as to advocate legalization of other drugs.

Rather, the caucus is proposing that Canada adopt the model that has proven successful in Portugal in significantly reducing overdose deaths, decreasing illicit drug use and reducing the social cost of drug abuse.

Since 2001, Portugal has expanded treatment and harm reduction services, such as safe injection sites, and eliminated criminal penalties for simple possession and consumption of all illegal drugs. A person found in possession of a drug for personal use is no longer arrested but ordered to appear before a "dissuasion commission" which can refer the person to a treatment program or impose administrative sanctions.

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