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Vancouver drug users group may abandon decriminalization talks over concerns

Last Updated May 3, 2021 at 10:59 am PDT

A person holds a Naloxone overdose prevention kit pictured at a pharmacy in Kingston, Ontario on Saturday, January 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

A long-time drug users advocacy group is threatening to walk-away from the decriminalization process that's underway in

VANDU says city's plan for decriminalization isn't reflective of what's happening on the streets

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) — A long-time drug users advocacy group is threatening to walk away from the decriminalization process currently underway in Vancouver, saying its concerns are not being addressed.

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) says the city’s planned submission to Health Canada for decriminalization isn’t reflective of what’s happening on the streets.

“[The process] needs to be stopped now, and we need to go back to square one,” said Vince Tao, VANDU community organizer. “Otherwise, we’re gonna come out with a Frankenstein Vancouver model of decriminalization that’s not going to be any good for drug users.”

At issue for VANDU is the proposed threshold amounts drug users can carry on them before it becomes a criminal offense.

While the group argues there should be no limits as to how much a person can carry, it says the maximum thresholds being proposed to Health Canada by Vancouver’s Decriminalization Working Group Oversight Committee is based on an outdated amount of drugs the average user can consumer over the course of three days.

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“When we saw those numbers in the first submission, we brought it to our membership. They looked at that, and, they’re like ‘that’s actually closer to one day’s worth of use’ for users on the downtown eastside,” said Tao. “They could have come to us. We’re out on the street. We have the ability to gather this data.”

Frustrated by the numbers being used, as well as a perceived lack of consultation, the group is now threatening to walk away from the consultation process completely.

In an open letter, VANDU says unless it’s granted an audience with the committee before Friday, it will no longer take part.

“We cannot have our name attached to this so-called Vancouver model, knowing that it will further endanger drug users,” warned Tao.

“This has been a cynical ploy, we see, from Mayor Kennedy Stewart to score electoral points, ” he added.

In January, Health Canada agreed to start formal discussions with the City of Vancouver on its plan to decriminalize the simple possession of illicit drugs.

Then, in April, the B.C. government announced it was going to seek a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession. That came on the five-year anniversary of B.C. declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency.