OPINION: Doing time for drugs isn’t working

Provincial health officer calls for decriminalization of possession, use of illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has called for the decriminalization of simple possession and use of illicit drugs.

It is a call many have made in the past, if for no other reason than the criminalization of those who use drugs—whether addicted or not—is clearly not working.

Thousands are in prison and thousands more are dead because society, for some reason, deems some drugs as being worse than others, despite the fact some drugs that are legal (alcohol, for example) contribute to far more deaths and injuries than other, illegal, drugs.

But the number of overdose deaths in B.C. remains high, too high, which is why Henry’s report, Stopping the Harm: decriminalization of people who use drugs in B.C., should be seriously considered by the powers-that-be.

In response to Henry’s report, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the province does not have the power to act on Henry’s recommendations legislatively.

“Possessing these substances is still illegal under federal law,” Farnworth said. “No provincial action can change that.”

Actually, the province and municipalities can indeed do something, and some are, including Abbotsford, Vancouver and Vernon, where pilot projects see police refer people to treatment instead of the criminal-justice system in an effort to reduce the fear of reporting an overdose.

Police everywhere have the power of discretion.

For instance, the Kamloops Mounties use it every day in many ways, from deciding to not issue a ticket to a helmetless bike rider to deciding to ignore the fact an illegal cannabis shop is operating in the city.

There is no reason Henry’s recommendations cannot be enacted in such a way at street level.

It is lamentable that the RCMP will not comment on Henry’s report, while municipal police forces are a healthy part of the conversation.

It would be interesting to hear what local police leaders think of the proposal.

-Kamloops This Week

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