As British Columbia seeks a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession for personal use, one Okanagan city is opposing the move.
Decriminalization is aimed at stemming the tide of drug poisoning deaths in the province.
However, Vernon city council is concerned it will make it harder to control public drug use, and the city wants to see improved services in place first.
“We need tools that police can use easily and readily to manage folks who are in public places.”
The majority of Vernon council voted to write a letter to the province opposing decriminalization, at least for now. The city believes other supports need to be in place first.
“We feel very strongly that what is needed is a safe drug supply, that this idea of decriminalization is really not the first thing that should be addressed, and the poisonous drug supply is. That’s what is having the biggest impact on individuals,” said Cumming.
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“And there needs to be significant new investment in care and treatment.”
The province says it is investing in treatment and recovery services and expanding prescribed safer supply, but it must use every tool at its disposal including decriminalization to reduce stigma and treat the public health emergency.
“Shame and fear keep people from accessing life-saving services and treatments and shame and fear can make people hide their drug use and use drugs alone. Using drugs alone can mean dying alone,” said Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson, when she announced B.C.’s application for a federal exception earlier this month.
The province points out that drug trafficking would remain illegal, and says decriminalization wouldn’t increase the availability of illicit drugs.
“Decriminalization seeks to preserve and protect the lives of those already engaged in substance use by treating them with dignity and respect and encouraging them to reach out for help when they need it,” the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in a statement.
Some in Vernon with lived experience of drug use see a middle ground.
“Possession should be okay, but making sure that people still can’t use it in public,” said Sadie Desarious.
Ultimately, the decision on decriminalization will be made far from Vernon. It will be up to the federal government to decide whether to grant B.C. the exemption needed to allow decriminalization to move forward.