News Release
March 24, 2023

Today, Toronto Public Health (TPH) updated its submission to Health Canada for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize drugs for personal use in Toronto. This is a critical step in Toronto’s response to the drug toxicity crisis. The update of the initial submission is a made-in-Toronto model to decriminalization. More information is available on the City’s Toronto Drug Strategy webpage.

Substance use is about health and is not a criminal justice issue. Public health experts, police and advocates have called for decriminalization, pointing to a range of potential benefits including cost saving for the criminal justice system, greater access and connection to health care and supports for people who use drugs and a reduction in preventable deaths related to drug use. Decriminalization will help reduce the barriers and stigma that prevent people from accessing life-saving supports and services.

There is clear support and interest in a made-in-Toronto model of decriminalization, including from Toronto Police Services Chief Myron Demkiw and Toronto City Manager Paul Johnson, who both signed the updated submission to Health Canada, along with Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. This update has been developed after an additional year of consultation following TPH’s initial submission in January 2022. Consultations included experts in mental health and substance use, community health, criminal justice and law enforcement, harm reduction and people with lived and living experience of drug use. TPH has also heard many personal stories from family, friends, first responders and frontline harm reduction workers. Working groups included members of African, Caribbean and Black and Indigenous communities. TPH also continues to work with partners on additional culturally-specific considerations.

TPH continues to work with Health Canada on a range of implementation considerations, including a robust monitoring and evaluation framework, and looks forward to continued partnership on the decriminalization framework in Toronto. We are now awaiting feedback from Health Canada on this updated submission.

The proposed Toronto model enhances public health and public safety considerations, advances equity for those most impacted by the harms of criminalization and is fully endorsed by TPH and the Toronto Police Service. Dr. de Villa and Chief Demkiw have established a strong partnership and continue to work together to address the range of health and legal issues relating to the proposed model. This is a work in progress and the updated submission to Health Canada reflects all of the partnership work to date, with much more collaborative work ahead in the days and months to come.


“I am proud we are taking this important step in our application to Health Canada to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use in Toronto. Not only will it ensure that individuals who use drugs gain access to the services they need most, but they can do so without fear of punishment by the justice system. We cannot ignore the drug poisoning crisis. Decriminalization is about saving lives.”

– Councillor Chris Moise (Toronto Centre), Chair of the Board of Health

“In 2021, 591 people died due to an overdose in Toronto. Fear of criminalization is one of the reasons people may hesitate to access the help they need. The goal of decriminalization is to reduce the mental, physical and social harms associated with criminalizing people for possessing drugs for their personal use, and it has the potential to meaningfully improve the health and wellbeing of all Torontonians.”

– Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

“We would like to sincerely thank everyone who has supported the development of our made-in-Toronto model for decriminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use. Many thanks to all of the members of our reference group, working groups, and each Torontonian who continues to volunteer their time and share input to help address the health and wellbeing of our great city.”

– Paul Johnson, City Manager

“Our approach to the decriminalization of the possession of drugs for personal use aims to strike the right balance of public health and public safety needs of everyone in our city. For our model to be effective, we need to also ensure that there are robust, wrap-around health and social supports for the people who use drugs. We continue to look to our partners from all levels of government for support for a full continuum of mental health and substance use services for Toronto. While we work towards decriminalizing possession of drugs for personal use, I want to be clear that we will continue to dismantle and disrupt those networks of people who profit off the sale and distribution of these harmful substances.”

– Chief Myron Demkiw, Toronto Police Service

Toronto is home to more than three million people whose diversity and experiences make this great city Canada’s leading economic engine and one of the world’s most diverse and livable cities. As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto is a global leader in technology, finance, film, music, culture and innovation, and consistently places at the top of international rankings due to investments championed by its government, residents and businesses. For more information visit the City’s website or follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Media contact:

Media Relations, Toronto Public Health,