Decriminalizing drugs and the path towards defunding police

(Photo credit: Talia Ricci, @talricci)

With global protests igniting around the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, calls to defund police are growing louder. For some, this may seem like an extreme proposition, but as the history of drug policy in Canada and globally has shown, the criminalization of drugs—and millions poured into police budgets to enforce associated laws—have fueled some of the greatest harms to society.

This interview by Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder, Sandy Hudson, articulates the clear logic around defunding police and what that means: reallocated funds more intelligently and eliminating from police control those roles they are now performing that cause serious community-level harm, and getting other more capable organizations to carry out those activities. Social development is key to creating healthier and safer communities. We believe it would make society safer by reallocating resources into vital social programs—like housing and employment services—that would do a better job in creating safety for everyone.

The significant resources pouring into enforcing inhumane drug laws that criminalize the possession of controlled substances for personal use is one of many areas in the purview of police that should be defunded. There is a mountain of evidence showing that criminalizing people who use drugs is extremely harmful. Currently amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the criminalization of drugs forces people to consume substances in isolation and engage in survival strategies that increase their risk of fatal overdose.

The millions we spend on criminalizing drug use could instead be funnelled into harm reduction and drug treatment programs that have been proven to save lives and build community, rather than fuel harm. Police themselves have said that they “cannot arrest their way out of the overdose crisis.” The cost in taxpayer dollars, but more importantly human lives, could be reduced by moving away from policing in this area as has been done in other countries.

(Photo credit: Peter Kim | National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis | 2018)

BC’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, recently lauded for her pandemic response by the New York Times, has called for the decriminalization of drugs. And this policy shift has been echoed by other leading health experts across Canada. This same shrinking of scope and defunding of budgets is possible in other areas of policing where public health and safety are being adversely impacted by police involvement, such as mental health calls.

The amazing efforts and courage of Black-led advocacy groups have pushed this issue to the forefront of our collective consciousness at a time when the world is on the cusp of transformative change. In addition to amplifying the messages and calls for change of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we can play an important role by supporting its efforts on the ground to ensure this pivotal moment in history bends towards justice.

Please consider donating to Black Lives Matter Toronto or the Black Legal Action Centre to ensure the movement for change continues. 

Stimulus Connect #3 is happening June 26. RSVP here.

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