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Posted: January 16, 2023

B.C. will be the decriminalization guinea pig

Letter to the Editor

Are we ready?

At the end of this month, the B.C. government’s three-year program to decriminalize the possession of some illegal drugs begins. What does this mean for the folks here in Kootenay East?

Starting January 31, adults (18 years and older) in B.C. will not be arrested or charged for possessing small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use. The total amount of illegal drug(s) must be equal to or less than 2.5 grams.

The illegal drugs covered are:

Opioids (such as heroin, morphine, and fentanyl);

Crack and powder cocaine;

Methamphetamine (Meth);

MDMA (Ecstasy).

Adults found in personal possession of any combination of these illegal drugs will not be subject to criminal charges and the drugs will not be seized. Instead, they will be offered information about health and social supports, including local treatment and recovery services.

This three-year pet project of the BC NDP Government is touted as a critical step toward reducing the shame and fear associated with substance use by decriminalizing people who use certain drugs.

I ask again, are we ready here in Kootenay East? My constituency office has been hearing concerns mainly around how and where people will access mental health and substance use supports, including treatment and recovery services. Yes, we have some very limited resources in our region but is it going to be enough? We are currently struggling to support people with addictions and seeing them warehoused in emergency shelters and/or falling through the cracks due to a lack of resources. If we are going to offer support, it needs to exist, let alone be accessible.

Our province will be the guinea pig in an untested and unproven approach to tackling the toxic drug crisis and addiction in Canada. With decriminalization in B.C. many are predicting “The Great March West” from those with addiction issues across the country seeking a form of asylum from prosecution here at home. We have seen poorly implemented programs from the NDP in the past with less potentially drastic outcomes… this is people’s lives. The NDP may be firm on harm reduction, but it lacks in providing resources.

The Four Pillars approach is recognized internationally as a mainstay in the fight against substance use and addiction. It is based on the principles of Prevention, Harm Reduction, Enforcement, and Treatment to form a balanced foundation for a community drug strategy. Its success hinges on all four pillars operating equally.

I don’t believe we are currently achieving this in Kootenay East. Come January 31,  I suspect those inadequacies will increase and I feel for our local police detachment, which may be under additional pressure.

Do you think we are ready? I encourage you to share your thoughts and include Premier David Eby and Health Minister Adrien Dix.

Tom Shypitka,

Kootenay East MLA

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