Where All Drugs Are Legal
In January 2019, Canada launched its first Safe Supply pilot program, providing hydromorphone (Dilaudid) to a number of people in British Columbia. It did not take long for evidence to mount indicating an improvement in quality of life and a decrease in drug purchases in the dangerously distorted illicit market. The U.S. government is now busy scaring doctors and pharmacists into thinking twice before writing or filling opioid prescriptions. Streets have been flooded at unpredictable doses cut with various forms of fentanyl(S) and opioid boosters such as xylazine. Despite Portugal`s tangible results, other countries are reluctant to do the same. The Portuguese began seriously considering decriminalization in 1998, immediately after the first special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the world drug problem (UNgass). High-level meetings of UNgass are convened every 10 years to define drug policy for all Member States and address trends in drug abuse, infections, money laundering, human trafficking and antitrust violence. In the first session – titled “A drug-free world: we can do it” – Latin American member states pushed for a radical rethinking of the war on drugs, but any attempt to explore alternative models (such as decriminalization) was blocked. At the next meeting in 2008, global drug use and drug-related violence had increased significantly. A special meeting was held last year, but it was largely a disappointment – the outcome document did not mention “harm reduction” once.
The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland are among a handful of countries that have decriminalized drug use and possession for personal use and have also invested in harm reduction programs. As a result, diagnoses are low among people who inject drugs in these countries. João is an activist for the legalization of marijuana, open to being HIV-positive, and after being away for part of his son`s youth, he loves his new role as a grandfather. He had stopped making speedballs (mixtures of cocaine and opiates) after several painful and unsuccessful treatment attempts, one of which was more destructive than the last. He used cannabis as a form of therapy for a long time – methadone didn`t work for him, nor did the hospital treatment programs he tried – but the cruel hypocrisy of decriminalization meant that while smoking weed wasn`t a crime, buying it was. His last and worst relapse came when he tried to buy marijuana from his regular dealer and was told, “I don`t have that right now, but I have good cocaine.” João said no and left, but soon found himself on his way to an ATM and back to the dealership. After this relapse, he started a new relationship and started his own business. At one point, it had more than 30 employees. Then came the financial crisis. “Customers didn`t pay and creditors knocked on my door,” he told me. “In six months, I had burned everything I had built in four or five years.
A proposal in the legislature would address some of the challenges in implementing Agenda 110 and strengthen rules and oversight. But that, too, has fueled controversy. Among other things, the bill proposes to change the addiction health assessment for people with hard drugs to less rigorous testing. The bill would also reduce the fine for contraventions from $100 to at least $45. Fines would continue to be denied if the person is screened for substance use disorder. Given that drug use and/or possession for personal use is a criminal offence in at least 67 countries, it is time for countries to take a bold step towards decriminalization. In 2021, Vancouver and Toronto city councils voted to decriminalize simple possession of all drugs; and submitted proposals in which the Federal Minister of Health requested a special exemption, citing countless scientific, psychological, medical and socio-economic benefits.  In 2007, the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction was granted the status of a public institute.