Canada

Okanagan reaction to B.C. drug decriminalization mixed

The federal government formally handed B.C. an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act on Tuesday.

It paves the way for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of some illegal drugs in the province.

“Shame and fear keep people from accessing the care that they need and the fear of being criminalized has led many people to hide their addiction and use drugs alone and using alone can mean dying alone,” said B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson at the announcement.

The shift in provincial drug policy is generating a range of reactions in B.C.’s Okanagan region.

B.C. to decriminalize possession of some hard drugs amid opioid crisis

It’s welcome news for Helen Jennens with Moms Stop the Harm. The Kelowna parent lost two sons to drug poisoning.

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“We’ve been working towards this for a long time… It gives us some hope that things are going to change,” said Jennens.

The exemption means adults in B.C. will not be charged criminally for the simple possession of up to 2.5 g starting at the end of January 2023 and lasting for three years.

Drugs covered by the exemption are opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

The amount is less than the province originally asked for, and some including Jennens argue the limit is too low.

“2.5 grams is not enough and actually puts these people in substance use in more danger…We are forcing them to go out into the black market more often,” said Jennens.

“It is a half step. It is a little bit disheartening to actually come and say, ‘We are going to do this,’ but do it in a half measure,” Jennens said.

The Okanagan-based B.C. First Nations Justice Council believes the limit should be raised to four grams to accommodate those living in remote areas.

“Addiction has no geographical boundaries. If we are working toward harm reduction by decriminalization to reduce users’ fear and isolation, the needs of those living in remote communities must also be considered,” said the council’s chair Doug White in a statement.

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The federal government has defended the 2.5-gram limit as a starting point.

“There is the ability of whatever amount [is decriminalized] to be pure fentanyl and then cut into many many more doses,” said federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennet.

Vernon city councillor Teresa Durning said she hopes decriminalization will save lives but she is not optimistic.

“These are people’s children and I agree we need to be working on that piece. But I think the piece that we are missing is the next level of care: the mental health treatment, the detox so people can go to treatment, to have treatment beds available, treatment facilities available for people because right now we are sadly lacking,” said Durning.

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The B.C. First Nations Justice Council said decriminalization “is only a step in the right direction and not a full solution to addressing the problem.”

“Unfortunately, too many of our people have become entangled in the criminal justice system because of addictions. Instead, we should be offering them safe supply and addiction treatment as a caring society,” White said in a statement.

Provincial authorities say they are committed to a range of responses to the crisis including treatment.

“[Decriminalization] is not the one single bullet, the one single thing that will reverse this crisis but we have seen clearly how important it is that this along with the advancements that we are making in safer supply will make a difference in curbing the tragedy that we have seen,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer.

‘This is a major step forward’: B.C. to remove criminal penalties for possession of some hard drugs



Source: Global News

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