VANCOUVER -- Vancouver's mayor wants to see simple possession of illicit drugs decriminalized, he announced Wednesday.

In a teleconference alongside Vancouver Coastal Health's Dr. Patricia Daly, Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced his plan to present a motion to council next week.

“Personal possession and use of drugs is not a criminal justice issue. It’s a health issue,” Stewart said. “And it’s time we fully embraced a health focused approach to substance use.”

If passed, that motion would direct the city to write to federal ministers of health, public safety and justice to request a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That exemption would allow them to decriminalize personal possession of illicit substances within Vancouver for medical purposes.

According to Stewart, the Vancouver Police Department already treat drug use and addiction as a health issue.

He said last year, VPD only recommended charges for possession in six cases.

“We are in the midst of two public health emergencies in this province,” Dr. Daly said. “The pandemic and the opioid overdose crisis. And we’re now in the fifth year of the public health emergency declared due to the rising number of opioid overdose deaths.”

She went on to say the coronavirus pandemic has worsened the overdose crisis. 

About one month ago, B.C. revealed another 127 people were killed in the province by suspected drug overdoses in September, which averaged to about 4.2 deaths per day. 

During that update, the province's coroner said Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria have experienced the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths this year, but no deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.

“2020 is on track to be the worst year yet for overdose deaths,” Stewart said. “My plan would see Vancouver lead the way as the first Canadian jurisdiction to decriminalize personal possession of illicit substances.”

Stewart said the details of how decriminalization would work still need to be worked out, and he couldn’t say if there would be other penalties for people found in possession of drugs or if police would continue to seize drugs.

BC Coroners Service is expected to release figures from October in the coming days.