According to organizers, Poverty Awareness Week in Chatham-Kent brought service organizations and the public to a better understanding of the issues of drug use and homelessness in our community.
The round table discussions included organizations, people who have lived or are living with the issues discussed, and the general public, who frankly, have a lot of questions and concerns.
From acknowledging there is an issue, to seeing it firsthand, to sitting down to discuss what can be done, our community has gone through many stages to get where we are now – talking. And not just talking to complain or blame, but talking to understand and to reach the point where we can say, “I get it. Now what can I do to help?”
Phillip Mock with the CK Prosperity Roundtable has done an excellent job getting people to the table for frank and open discussion of very tough issues, including harm reduction initiatives such as the decriminalization of drugs – all drugs – for personal use. Marijuana for personal use has already been decriminalized.
When you first hear the concept of full drug decriminalization, a knee-jerk reaction would be to scoff at the idea as ludicrous. Harm reduction, such as allowing people who aren’t ready to quit drugs completely to not get a criminal record from personal use, is just one suggestion to get our community from here to there.
“There” would be a place where drug use amongst young people was reduced and overall deaths due to drug use goes down. “There” is a place where addicts would not have to steal to support their habit because we would have supports and services in place to help them reduce and eventually quit using.
In Portugal, personal drug use was decriminalized in 2001. Since that time, statistics show that drug use in the 15-24 age group has been reduced, drug deaths overall but particularly in adults has gone down, and general problematic and injection drug use decreased.
In Portugal, drug use was treated as a public health problem rather than a criminal one. The country combined public social policy changes in supports and services to help achieve their goal.
Would that work here in Canada and in Chatham-Kent? Who knows, but the idea, however counterintuitive it may seem to people, is worth a discussion – one we need to be brave enough to have.