Premier supports decriminalization of small quantities of illicit drugs, as B.C. grapples with overdose crisis - InfoNews

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Premier supports decriminalization of small quantities of illicit drugs, as B.C. grapples with overdose crisis

FILE PHOTO - Premier John Horgan announces the B.C. government has extended the provincial state of emergency in order to support the COVID-19 pandemic response in Victoria, April 15, 2020.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Province of B.C.
July 09, 2020 - 12:38 PM

B.C. Premier John Horgan is supporting the head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in calling for decriminalization of the simple possession of illicit drugs.

“Canada continues to grapple with the Fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer said in a police chiefs news release issued Thursday morning, July 9. “We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government.”

The police chiefs propose increased access to healthcare, treatment and social services to divert people struggling with substance use or addiction away from the criminal justice system. This would apply to individuals in possession of small or predetermined amounts of illicit drugs for personal consumption, according to the news release.

“We’re in the midst of a global pandemic with COVID-19. In British Columbia that is further complicated by an overdose crisis which saw last month, the highest monthly number of deaths that we’ve seen in a good long time,” Premier John Horgan said during a press conference July 9.

“Anything that we can do to reduce deaths and to reduce the dependence and quite frankly, free up law enforcement to do other things, I support. The challenge is that these are largely criminal code issues and it will require the federal government to lead on this,” he said during the conference.

Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, has also supported the decriminalization of possession of illicit drugs.

READ MORE: Decriminalization of illicit drugs on Dr. Bonnie Henry's radar

A rising death toll in B.C. from overdoses during the COVID-19 pandemic has advocates, government officials and health-care workers concerned about a public health emergency that is being overshadowed by the pandemic.The B.C. Coroners Service reported 113 people died in March of suspected illicit drug overdoses, the first time deaths from overdoses in B.C. exceeded 100 in a month.

READ MORE: Overdoses 'sadly normalized' in British Columbia: addictions minister

The First Nations Health Authority in B.C. reported 89 members First Nations people overdosed from illicit drugs between January and May, an increase of 93 per cent compared to the same timeframe last year.

“We have been doing more than any other province (to combat the overdose crisis) by creating a stand-alone minister responsible so that every day someone at the cabinet table is responsible for coming up with new and innovative ways to help people struggling with addictions. That has led to other governments following suit,“ Horgan said.

B.C. is also reviewing its Police Act for the first time in 46 years, Horgan said. The province has also created a special committee to gather feedback from British Columbians on how best to update the act, he said.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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