'Not ready': Alberta police association says it won't support drug decriminalization

Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld says the city isn't ready to decriminalize drugs

As others in Canada start to take steps towards new personal possession rules, Alberta's police association says it's too soon to decriminalize hard drugs in our province. 

Calgary's top cop Mark Neufeld, speaking on behalf of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police, says there's not enough evidence that shows the strategy alone will have an impact. 

"By itself, decriminalization would not reduced rates of addiction or overdose," he said. "(It) triggers an immediate need for structural and societal changes in areas that do not currently exist."

The association says there is still work in health, social services and justice that needs to be done before rules can be overhauled. It believes premature changes will result in complaints and open public drug use that will lead to more work for officers. 

"If you were to just pull sort of one lever, and it was going to be the decriminalization lever, all it would do is just make it easier to possess illicit drugs and also to see individuals using them in public," Neufeld said. "We're not ready."

OPEN DRUG USE HAPPENING NOW: ADVOCATES

But while the chief is trying to save his officers added duties, many advocates point out that policing work is already embedded in drug use effects -- and decriminalization would be a step to remedying that. 

Across the country in 2018 to 2020, almost 28,000 annual arrests were made for possession.  

"We're making people's lives very miserable if they use drugs," advocate Euan Thomson told CTV News. "With a new strategy, drug use will likely go down, people will gain stability in their lives and as their human rights are restored, and our communities will actually become safer."

Thomson points to Portugal, where decades-old decriminalization can be directly linked to a decrease in overdose deaths and drug use in teens, and to an increase in those seeking treatment. 

"Decriminalization is very much needed, even if it's on its own," Thomson said. "Just like we saw with cannabis legalization, the sky is not going to fall on the day you decriminalize all drugs."

The City of Vancouver has applied for an exemption from the federal controlled substances act so it can update its personal possession rules. 

Calgary's police chief expects many more cities will also explore that option. 

As of now, no changes are imminent in Alberta.