B.C. municipality opposes decriminalization without significant increase in addiction support

·3 min read
On Nov. 8, Vernon city council passed a resolution to ask the province not to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)
On Nov. 8, Vernon city council passed a resolution to ask the province not to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs. (Winston Szeto/CBC - image credit)

Vernon is opposing the province's move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use without a significant increase in services and supports for people with substance use issues.

At a closed-door meeting on Nov. 8, council approved a resolution by a a margin of 5-1, opposing the B.C. government's decision to apply to the federal government for a Health Canada exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

"Decriminalization alone will not resolve the current crisis or significantly reduce overdose deaths without an immediate and significant increase in services and supports for persons with substance use disorders," Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming wrote the B.C. government in a letter dated Nov. 16.

The letter says decriminalization of small amounts of drugs could lead to "unanticipated outcomes," such as increased use of drugs in public spaces and increased use of tainted drugs.

The exemption would legalize the possession of up to 4.5 grams by people 19 or older.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has expressed support for the exemption application as a harm reduction measure.

The City of Vancouver submitted a request to Health Canada in May for the exemption, well before the province.

Coun. Kari Gares, who voted in favour of sending the letter says council isn't opposed to the idea of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs, but it needs to consider how doing so may impact the local community and how to implement bylaws to regulate drug use.

"From a community perspective, it's not just about the health and safety of our citizens — it's also about how we regulate open drug use," Gares told host Chris Walker on CBC's Daybreak South.

"We [the council] need to see a much broader perspective on that — on how the municipalities are going to handle it, and what type of legislation or bylaws or policies are going to be wrapped around in conjunction with the decriminalization."

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In July, the province announced up to $22.6 million in funding to implement a provincewide prescribed safe drug supply program over the next three years.

Jeanne Arcand, the president of the Vernon Homeless Outreach Team Association says decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of drugs will neither improve or aggravate open drug use in Vernon.

"People that are using drugs are going to use drugs wherever and whenever they need to, because they need it to survive," Arcand said on CBC's Daybreak South. "To decriminalize drugs is just another way to help — it's only a part of harm reduction in trying to solve this crisis."

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions confirmed that it received Vernon city council's letter on Nov. 25. It says the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of drugs will help remove the stigma associated with addictions.

"Shame and fear keep many people from accessing life-saving services and treatments, and shame and fear can make people hide additions and use drugs alone, which risks dying alone," the statement said.

READ | Vernon city council's letter to the province on decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs

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