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Leaves Shadow


Decriminalization, sometimes called “Decrim”, is referring to changing the law to make it legal to have substances for personal use. This is not the same as regulating substances.

What does decriminalization mean?


If all substances are decriminalized, that means that people stopped by police with a small amount of drugs would not be arrested or charged. There is no universal quantity that has been “approved” for possession when discussing decriminalization.


Currently, the amount someone is legally able to possess, depends on how that community, province, or country has defined it. If someone is found to have more than the approved amount of drugs or if they are selling drugs, it would still be illegal.

Why do people use substances?


Many who use substances do so in for pleasure, spirituality, relaxation, to self-medicate and for connection, and are able to do so without developing dependence or addiction.

Why is criminalization of personal possession harmful?


A growing body of evidence indicates that criminalizing drug possession does not reduce the use and availability of drugs. 

Criminalizing drug possession puts people who use drugs at increased risk of harm, including the risk of drug poisoning. By criminalizing people who use drugs it can prevent them from accessing health care, social services, and emergency care, this increases the risk of infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C and can prevent people from seeking emergency care when drug poisoning is occurring. 

The harms of drug prohibition are disproportionate to marginalized communities. Indigenous, Black, and other racialized, and low-income communities have higher rates of profiling, arrests, and incarcerations for drug offences. 

Criminalizing those that use substances makes stigma and discrimination worse. 

When someone is criminally charged with a drug possession offence it affects not only them, but it also extends intergenerationally through whole families and communities, increasing marginalization these groups face. The harms of criminalization follow people for the rest of their lives, with criminal records limiting employment and housing opportunities, affecting child custody, and restricting travel. Once branded as a person who uses drugs, a person faces discrimination and exclusion.

How does decriminalization work?


Decriminalization of personal possession requires an exemption to Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The federal Health Minister has the power to exempt people or municipalities and provinces, from any or all of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. They do not have to amend or pass legislation in Parliament if it is believed to be in the public's interest.

Why should our community advocate for decriminalization?


KFL&A has the opportunity to support all residents, with a policy that is focused on well-being and human rights. The policy does not create more harm to individuals or the community.

What are the benefits of decriminalization?

  • Save money on policing, court, and correctional costs.

  • Free up law enforcement resources to be used in more appropriate ways.

  • Prioritize health and safety over punishment for people who use substances.

  • Remove barriers for those who have problematic drug use to access care, treatment, or support.  

  • Remove barriers to harm reduction practices, such as supervised consumption and safe supplies.

  • Decreases the risk of drug poisoning and blood born infections.

Alternative to criminalization sub-committee

Alternatives to Criminalization is a sub-committee of the Community Drug Strategy. The sub-committee is made up of representatives from across the KFL&A region, working together to investigate decriminalization of personal possession of unregulated substances as a way of increasing the health and well-being of those who use substances and by decreasing the threat of police surveillance, arrest, and prosecution. It is important that we remove barriers to harm reduction and community health services; particularly for those most affected by prohibition, including Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities. 


The sub-committee is reaching out to community members to get their feedback on decriminalization in the KFL&A region and how it could affect our community. A Community Consultation began Spring 2023. 


The community consultation report has now been made available to the public for review.


Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. 2022. Decriminalization Done Right: A Rights-Based path for Drug Policy. Retrieved October 14, 2022 from


HIV Legal Network. A primer for municipalities and provincial governments: Decriminalizing people who use drugs; making the ask, minimalizing the harms. Retrieved October 14, 2022 from


Drug Policy Alliance. 2022. Retrieved October 14 , 2022 from

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