B.C. Premier John Horgan is formally asking the federal government to decriminalize possession of illegal drugs for personal use.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Horgan says decriminalization would ‘reduce the systemic stigma associated with illicit drug use and support people to access the services that they need’.
“Criminal prohibitions are ineffective in deterring drug use, and criminalization of drug possession directly leads to both individuals and systemic stigma and discrimination that prevent people from seeking services,” Horgan writes.
In June, 175 people in the province died from an illicit drug overdose, surpassing the previous high of 171 in May.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) is calling for the decriminalization of simple possession of illicit drugs, a call Horgan is openly supporting.
The association is calling for the creation of a national task force to look into drug policy reform.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is also calling for police to stop arresting people for the possession of illicit drugs for personal use.
Horgan’s letter urges Ottawa to develop a national plan to move towards a change in policy around controlled substances for personal use.
“The province of British Columbia offers its support and encouragement to the government of Canada to take urgent, necessary action on this matter to save lives,” Horgan writes.
British Columbia has struggled dealing with both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing overdose crisis. Since the coronavirus pandemic began a spike in illicit drug deaths has happened due to more drug users using alone and a more toxic drug supply.
Health officials have argued many times decriminalization would decrease the fears of drug users of using with friends. The B.C. government put in place measures before the pandemic to provide pharmaceutical grade opioids in an attempt to reduce the reliance on toxic street drugs.
“We need to put as much time and effort and kindness and compassion into caring for people who use drugs as we have been successful in doing in responding to the COVID-19 crisis,” Henry said.
— with files from Jon Azpiri and Simon Little