CCSA releases new Policy Brief: Decriminalization: Options and Evidence

Executive Summary
A growing body of evidence suggests that decriminalization is an effective way to mitigate the harms of substance use and the policies and practices used to deal with it, especially those harms associated with criminal justice prosecution for simple possession. This policy brief reviews the various ways in which decriminalization of controlled substances is being interpreted and implemented internationally and in Canada.

Decriminalization is a policy strategy in which non-criminal penalties, such as fines, are available for designated activities, such as possession of small quantities of a controlled substance. It has been proposed as a way to reduce the harms associated with the opioid crisis. An understanding of decriminalization starts by recognizing that it is not a single approach, but a range of policies and practices.

This brief will inform policy makers, decision makers, analysts and advisors in the health, social and criminal justice sectors by:
– Defining key concepts;
– Illustrating examples of informal (de facto) and formal (de jure) applications of decriminalization, including harm reduction services, police diversion and national policy approaches;
– Identifying considerations for evaluation and monitoring of applied decriminalization approaches;
– Summarizing lessons learned from international and Canadian experience; and
– Proposing decriminalization options for application to the current Canadian context.


Policy Brief