by Lone Sheep Publishing on Tuesday January 31 2023
Amanda Erickson, Community Action Team Facilitator for Nelson, Castlegar, Grand Forks, said the overdose crisis is a problem that in some form most likely has affected everyone in the province.
Monday’s drug decriminalization pilot project announced by the BC Government, that takes affect Tuesday, January 31, 2023, will take a critical step to end the shame and stigma that prevents the public with substance abuse issues from reaching out for what could be life-saving help.
“The overdose crisis is a public health issue,” Erickson told The Nelson Daily when asked about the new three-year pilot project.
“Changing drug policy and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of substances for personal use only, is just one part of the provincial response.”
Health Canada recently granted the Province of B.C. a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who use drugs. Beginning Jan. 31, 2023, until Jan. 31, 2026, adults (18 and older) in B.C. will not be subject to criminal charges if they possess a small amount of certain illegal drugs for personal use.
"We know criminalization drives people to use alone. Given the increasingly toxic drug supply, using alone can be fatal," said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions said in the BC Government media release.
"Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports. This is a vital step to get more people connected to the services and supports as the Province continues to add them at an unprecedented rate."
This exemption does not mean drugs are legalized.
The drugs included in the exemption remain illegal; however, adults who are found in possession of a cumulative total of as much as 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA for personal use will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized, if abiding by the scope and conditions of the exemption.
Instead, police will offer information on available health and social supports, as well as local treatment and recovery options.
Erickson said that in 2022, in the Kootenay Boundary region, 30 people died due to overdose.
“We need to take action to respond with innovation and compassion,” Erickson said.
“Portugal decriminalized substances in 2001 and saw a significant reduction in death rates and HIV rates since then."
To prepare for Jan. 31, the Province has worked with police leaders to develop training resources and practical guidance, which are now available to more than 9,000 front-line police officers.
In addition, the Province is building new pathways into the health-care system by hiring health authority specific positions dedicated to building connections with local service providers and people referred by police. These positions will also help connect people with resources and information on voluntary mental-health and addictions supports in their own community.
Drug possession in any amount will continue to be a criminal offence on K-12 school grounds and at licensed childcare facilities. Further, decriminalization does not apply to youth 17 and younger. Youth found in possession of any number of illegal drugs are subject to the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, which offers them alternatives to criminal charges in some cases.
“This change can encourage people to seek support for substance use, rather than staying isolated in shame and judgement,” Erickson explained.
“People will be referred to supports rather than criminalized.”
— With files from BC Government