Monday, October 3, 2022

Critics say baby steps aren’t enough to decriminalize illegal drug possession in BC

Federal minister calls new drug rules ‘beginning’ and says they will be reevaluated

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Health Canada’s decision to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs in small quantities in BC was seen by some as a significant step forward, but critics said the 2.5-gram limit is a “ridiculously low limit” Can cause people to buy more potent drugs.

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BC will become the first jurisdiction in Canada where people 18 years of age or older will not be subject to criminal charges or compulsory treatment if found with a total of 2.5 grams or less of opioids, cocaine and amphetamines, and their drugs will not be confiscated. Will go

However, the police can charge if there is evidence that a person possessing drugs is smuggling them. It is still illegal to produce, import or export drugs in any quantity. And the exemption does not cover psychedelic drugs.

The exemption does not apply to people who have drugs in grade schools, licensed child care facilities, at airports, or on Coast Guard ships and helicopters. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces remain subject to the Code of Service Discipline.

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The changes take effect from January 31, 2023 and last until January 31, 2026, at which time the province must reapply.

B.C. Addiction Minister Sheila Malcolmson said Tuesday that de-criminalisation will help reduce the stigma about drug use that can keep people from seeking harm-reduction services. She said it is acknowledged that substance abuse is a public health issue, not a criminal one.

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.'s minister of mental health and addictions, announced during an announcement to decriminalize a range of illegal drugs.
Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions, announced during an announcement to decriminalize a range of illegal drugs. Photo by Nick Procalo ,png

“Shame and fear keep people from accessing the care they need and the fear of being convicted has led many people to hide their addiction and be alone,” Malcomson said in a news conference with his federal counterpart Carolyn Bennett in Vancouver. motivated to use drugs.” “And being used alone can mean dying alone.”

Bennett approved B.C.’s request in November to exempt the province from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C.’s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe have been demanding for years.

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However, the 2.5 g threshold set by Ottawa is much lower than the 4.5 g requested by BC, which was based on feedback from experts and people using the drug.

Leslie McBain, co-founder of harm reduction advocacy group Moms Stop the Harm, said the threshold for people dependent on illegal substances included in the exemption is “ridiculously low.”

This could have unintended consequences, McBain said, adding that people who buy illegal drugs multiple times a day are more likely to end up with a bad batch.

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau feared that the low possession threshold “could result in a higher drug power, potentially causing greater harm and fear of seeking help.” He said mere de-criminalisation does not save lives and called on BC to expand access to regulated safe supplies, especially in remote communities.

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A study conducted by the BC Center on Substance Use found that people with the most severe substance-use disorders typically use four grams of opioids, five grams of cocaine, 75 Rocks of Crack cocaine, or six grams of amphetamine daily.

The report’s author, Cora Debeck, a public policy and research scientist with the Center, said she was disappointed that the federal government took such a cautious approach to de-criminalisation.

Bennett acknowledged that the extent of possession is lower than advocates expected, but added, “We’re going to start over.” The government will study the boundary line in real time, Bennett said.

At a news conference after federal Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett granted British Columbia an exemption to decriminalize possession of certain illicit drugs for personal use.
At a news conference after federal Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett granted British Columbia an exemption to decriminalize possession of certain illicit drugs for personal use. DARRYL DYCK . photo by ,canadian press

Advocates like McBain hope this will eventually be extended.

Bennett said police across the country have advised the government that 85 percent of drug seizures related to drug trafficking are less than two grams.

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The City of Vancouver applied to decriminalize a small amount of separate illicit drugs in Ottawa, allowing people to possess two grams of opioids, three grams of cocaine, one gram of crack cocaine and 1.5 grams of amphetamines.

The exemption rules of BC will also apply to the city.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said during Tuesday’s press conference, “Reducing simple drug possession is the first step in a historic brave and life-saving fight.” “It marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs.”

Doug White, president of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said the council is advocating for the criminalization of four grams of illicit drugs. White said the 2.5-gram limit is unfair to people living in remote communities, who often buy a multi-day supply of drugs and lack treatment options and safe supplies in urban centers.

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White said drug prohibition has done a great deal of harm to indigenous peoples who are over-represented in the legal and prison systems, which is why he also wants to see pardons and criminal records for those who have previously Simple possession was charged.

Grieving people with criminal records for simple possession “is like throwing anchors at people screaming for help instead of the ring of life,” he said.

A critic of the federal NDP’s loss reduction, Gord Johns said the Liberal government should follow a national de-criminalization strategy rather than a piecemeal nationwide approach.

Johns will introduce a private member bill on Wednesday that would create a national strategy to decriminalize simple possession and eliminate criminal records for that offense. Bennett said Tuesday she would not support that bill, saying starting with B.C. was the “prudent way to go.”

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he was concerned the waiver decision for B.C. could be a “slippery slope”, and wondered why other provinces were not consulted about the plan.

“I don’t think it’s hard to see where it’s going. And where it’s going, I believe it’s going in an unfavorable direction.”

Manitoba Justice Minster Calvin Goertzen said his province would not follow BC, and would instead focus on cutting off illegal supplies while offering addiction treatment to users.

BC A record number of deaths from illicit drug poisoning continues in the U.S. In 2016 the overdose crisis in BC was declared a public health emergency and the pandemic exacerbated the situation.

In 2021, 2,224 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses in BC, the most recorded deaths in a calendar year.

Illegal drug overdoses killed more than 165 British Columbians in March, contributing to a record-setting death toll in the first quarter of 2022.

With files from the Canadian Press

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