There is a new push to decriminalize illegal drugs in Quebec after British Columbia was just given the right to do just that in an effort to save lives.

In Quebec, there is at least one opioid death every day, but the premier says decriminalization is not necessary.

Drug overdoses are rising in Montreal at an alarming rate.

"Yesterday at 10:00, we were reviving someone in our safe consumption [site] and this is an everyday occurrence," said Jean-François Mary, executive director of Cactus Montreal, North America's first needle exchange program.

"Every day, we revive people. This is something that we weren't used to, like three years ago. So it's never been worse but we don't see any action from the provincial government."

Mary provides support to people struggling with addiction. He said the overdose crisis is getting out of hand and trying to police the drug trade is not working.

"All this police operation just making the situation worse for people who use drugs," he said. "Every time they disrupt the supply we know that in the next coming weeks, we're going to have a worse supply circulating in the city. So more of overdoses."

But in B.C., the epicentre of Canada's opioid epidemic, the province is trying a new approach. In a Canadian first, adults found to be carrying up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit drugs in that province will not be subject to arrest or charges, starting next year. B.C. was granted an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize small amounts of drugs like, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

"It marks a fundamental re-thinking of drug policy that favours health-care over handcuffs,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart of the announcement.

It's an idea supported by many who research policing and addiction, including Ted Rutland at Concordia University.

He said the decades-old policy of criminalization disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable.

"It doesn't reduce the supply of drugs," Rutland said in an interview. "Drugs are just as available now as they were at the beginning of the war on drugs. And secondly, it makes drug use much more dangerous."


Quebec Premier François Legault categorically rejected the idea, but without saying why.

"We have no plan to do so. We don't think it's necessary in Quebec," when asked by reporters Wednesday to explain his position.

Rutland said the B.C. announcement is a step in the right direction, but hopes the shift in thinking spreads nationally.

He decriminalization still allows police to go after drug traffickers and at the same time lets people use drugs in a safer manner. For example, with possession of small quantities of drugs allowed, people can use them in group settings where it's often less dangerous "Instead of having to do it in a way that would that prioritizes evading arrest," such as in an alleyway.

"This old idea that we can just remove drugs from the streets just doesn't hold," Rutland added.

"Drugs are widely available. And so we needed to create a situation where people make the best choices they can and where their risks of having severe harm caused to them are reduced as much as possible."

Those on the ground want the premier to reconsider.

"We've got over 500 deaths per year. This is more than road accidents of people drowning. But there is no focus on that," said Mary. "Nobody cares about these people dying,"

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said she is open to discussing it.

"For Montreal, we said yes to the supervised injection centres. And for me, we have shown interest, talking with the federal [government,]" she said Wednesday.

Last year, Montreal passed a motion pushing Ottawa to decriminalize some drugs. But unlike Toronto or Vancouver, it has not yet applied for an exemption to the law that makes small-scale possession for personal use illegal.