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Pair of provincial stakeholders weigh in on drug decriminalization

People aged 18 and older in BC will not be subject to criminal charges for possessing small amounts of certain illegal drugs as of January 31st, 2023.

Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe and RCMP Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald each put out a statement on the topic.

“The BC RCMP fully acknowledges the devastating toll the overdose crisis has taken on all of our communities, and recognizes that significant measures have to be considered in order to address the daily senseless deaths from a lethal supply of drugs,” said McDonald.

“The measures we implement to address this crisis have to be thoughtful, balanced, and cannot present a threat to public safety.”

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“We support the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in addressing substance use-related issues, while ensuring community safety. This health-focused approach to managing the overdose crisis will hopefully reduce the stigma around substance use which has deterred people from seeking out the help they need. This has always been an issue that needs to be handled with the utmost care and compassion so those most vulnerable are not further at risk,” added McDonald.

He noted that the quantity limit was set to 2.5 grams, but that trafficking offenses will remain unchanged.

“We will continue to pursue criminals involved in illegal drug trade, including the detection and dismantling of drug production labs.”

“As we work on the requirements for implementation we will also be looking at the impacts for public consumption, motor vehicle related offenses, treatment and health support options and safer supply as it relates to pathways to care.”

“In light of this announcement, we are working diligently to ensure our officers have up to date training and knowledge necessary in order to serve our communities. The RCMP, in collaboration with our policing partners in BC, will make adjustments to our policies and procedures to align with the guidance from the federal and provincial government,” said McDonald.

Lapointe noted that criminalization has been harmful to those who use drugs, and that providing a safer supply should still be looked at.

“[Yesterday’s] announcement is a historic acknowledgement that the criminalization of drug use has resulted in significant harms to those who use illicit substances. It is also an important step on the journey toward recognizing substance use as a health matter that has not benefitted from a punitive enforcement approach.”

“The important advice and perspectives of those with lived and living experience and their loved ones, as well as the findings of dedicated research, suggest that limits higher than 2.5 grams are necessary to benefit the most vulnerable substance users in our province. It is uncertain whether a personal limit of 2.5 grams will result in any decrease in enforcement or whether it will reduce existing inequities between urban and rural substance users or the over-representation of Indigenous people and people of colour in the justice system.”

“BC Coroners Service findings also make it very clear that decriminalization is unlikely to have a significant impact on the current crisis in the short term. Reliable access to safer supply remains the critical urgent priority to reduce the continued and tragic loss of lives of our community members,” added Lapointe.

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