Decriminalization of the possession of illicit substances for personal use: A proposed theory of change to improve community safety and well-being outcomes in Canada
Keywords:Addiction, drug policy, drugs, problematic substance use, whole-of-system responses, theory of change
Addressing the harms associated with criminalizing the problematic and addictive use of substances is a complex undertaking. In many cases, problematic substance use has a relationship to prior and current adversities and has been characterized as an “affliction of inequality.” Community partners, leaders and policy makers will benefit from an informed understanding of the potential role of decriminalization as part of system-wide efforts that have the potential to achieve urgent societal goals. We draw on relevant and up-to-date domestic and international research to present a theory of change for approaching the decriminalization of personal substance use as one part of an integrated strategy addressing health and safety. The proposed theory of change should serve as a guide to understanding, designing and participating in effective whole-of-system strategies and actions. As a living document—and starting point for collaborative community safety and
well-being planning—the material presented here should be refined as additional evidence and insights become available.
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