Following two drug-related deaths in Hay River late last month, a member of the Legislative Assembly is calling for the GNWT to lobby for the federal decriminalization of drugs.
During a sitting of the Legislative Assembly on March 10, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson asked Premier Caroline Cochrane if her government would advocate for drug decriminalization at the federal level. Under decriminalization, residents would not be criminally charged for drug-related offences, but could potentially still receive fines or warnings.
“The sad reality is we are only going to see more deaths in this area unless we take serious action,” Johnson said.
Cochrane deferred the question to Minister of Justice R.J. Simpson, who said his department was “keeping an eye on the situation across Canada.”
On Feb. 24, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer reported that two recent deaths in a South Slave community were likely related to cocaine that was laced with other substances. On March 7, Hay River’s town council passed a motion mandating the creation of a new committee to deal with the crisis.
“There are committees made up of all the provinces and territories and the federal government who are looking at this exact thing,” said Simpson. “They held the first meeting back in August. So there is a movement on this recently, and I really look forward to seeing what comes of it.”
In November, British Columbia applied to the federal government to decriminalize drug possession in the province amid an epidemic of overdoses and overdose-related deaths.
Johnson asked Simpson to clarify the GNWT’s position on drug decriminalization.
“The position is that we need to work with the Indigenous governments in the Northwest Territories because this is not our decision alone,” said Simpson.