‘We disagree’: Ford clashes with medical officer on decriminalizing hard drugs, raising drinking age

Premier Doug Ford is rejecting his top doctor's recommendations to hike the legal drinking age to 21 and decriminalize possession of unregulated drugs.

They were a united front during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Premier Doug Ford and his Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, aren’t exactly standing side-by-side on issues surrounding substance use and abuse in Ontario.

Moore made a number of suggestions in his annual report released last week, calling on the province to restrict access to alcohol, decriminalize simple possession of unregulated drugs for personal use, and explore raising Ontario’s drinking age from 19 to 21.

The Minister of Health’s office immediately rejected the idea of decriminalizing hard drugs, but Ford elaborated on Moore’s suggestions during a news conference on Wednesday.

The premier took particular issue with the idea of raising the drinking age, arguing that anyone old enough to serve in the military should be allowed to crack a cold one.

“I disagree with raising the (drinking) age to 21 and one of my principles (is) these young people they put a uniform on and go fight for freedom around the world, driving tanks and heavy military equipment, and putting their lives on the line for democracy and they can’t go back later and have a beer?

“That doesn’t cut it,” Ford said. “So that was one of my principles, if they are willing to fight for our country then they should be able to have a beer.”

When it came to restricting access to alcohol, Ford said he while he appreciates Moore’s viewpoints, he won’t be making changes.

“I think the world of Dr. Moore. As far as I’m concerned he’s a champion. He has his opinion, we have ours. We believe in treating people like adults. All across the world you get to go into a retail store, a big box store and buy a bottle of wine with your steak, or maybe a six pack of beer, like the rest of the world does. That’s what we believe in,” he stressed.

“I’ll always support Dr. Moore and the job he’s doing. Do we disagree? Yes we disagree.”

Minister of Health, Sylvia Jones, also reiterated that the province isn’t on board with decriminalizing hard drugs, like opioids, despite Dr. Moore’s opinion that doing so would save lives.

Jones said the government was focused instead of finding treatment options for addicts.

“We want pathways for treatment (for those) that have addiction issues,” she said. “And we are making those investments.

“I think there is a better way than legalizing drugs, and opioids in particular.”

In his report, Moore called many substance use deaths “preventable” saying the unsafe drugs that flood the streets “harm too many people too young, devastate families, destroy communities, and reduce life expectancy, we must act.”

“Decriminalization … allows the justice and enforcement systems to focus their resources on stopping the organizations and individuals profiting from unregulated drug sales rather than on people who use substances whose needs would be better met in the health system,” he wrote.

Moore’s report stated that more than 2,500 people have died in Ontario each year in the past few years due to a toxic drug supply with the number of opioid-related deaths among teens and young adults in Ontario tripling between 2014 and 2021.

With files from the Canadian Press

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