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Issues abound for Vernon RCMP in relation to drug decriminalization

First month of new legislation has Superintendent struggling
RCMP gave a photo example to Vernon council of what 2.5 grams of packaged, decriminalized illicit drugs could look like. (Vernon North Okanagan RCMP photo)

There are issues for Vernon’s top cop in regards to new legislation on drug decriminalization in the province.

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Shawna Baher stopped by Vernon council’s regular meeting Monday, Feb. 27, to report on the impact of the new decriminalization of possessing 2.5 grams of illicit drugs.

The new rule came into effect Jan. 31, and applies to all adults 18 and over in regards to possessing opioids, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamines.

“Police will no longer arrest or charge individuals for possession. No fines or tickets or other administrative sanctions,” said Baher, adding the local detachment hasn’t really been forwarding charges in such cases for nearly two decades, but rather looking at the root cause of the issue, which, she said, is often substance misuse.

“We’ve put individuals in touch with local services and providing local supports. Now, officers will have additional provincial resources they can turn to.”

In a photo illustration to council, Baher showed that 2.5 grams of heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine are about as big as a dime, and that 2.5 grams of cocaine, meth, ecstasy or an accumulation totalling 2.5 grams is about the size of a quarter.

One of the local detachment’s ongoing issues is the open use of the illicit drugs. Baher told council the police’s hands are essentially tied.

“If we believe they are trafficking or in possession for the purpose of trafficking, yes, we can deal with the individuals,” she said. “But if they’re just using the drugs, we have to look at the exemption. It doesn’t give us the power to deal with the individual and we will be watched for this.”

Baher added if the local detachment is taking prisoners into the cell block on an unrelated matter, and are found to have up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs on them, police must take the drugs and give it back upon the person’s release from custody.

“It was illegal on Jan. 30, but now it’s not,” said Baher. “If we give the drugs back, and they’ve been without the drugs for a few days, they could overdose. We’ve seen that. It puts them at the risk of an overdose. If that does happen, we have to notify the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) to investigate our member.

“That’s something I struggle with.”

Baher said the new legislation will not change the opioid crisis in B.C., where there were 40 deaths in Vernon in 2022 and 42 in 2021.

“It’s not a decreasing number,” she said. “More people are becoming addicted. We have to have the ability to stop it. But this won’t change the opioid crisis unless there’s a change in the toxic drug supply and there’s nothing being done about that.”

Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming called for another meeting with Baher in a month.

“We need a very quick and very prompt feedback with the provincial government on this initiative,” he said.

Police still have the authority to arrest, search and seize for drug possession offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act on Kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school premises, certified airports, licensed childcare facilities, Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters, Canadian Forces members subject to the code of service discipline, and in a motor vehicle or watercraft operated by a minor.

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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