Vernon city council says no to drug decriminalization | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon city council says no to drug decriminalization

Vernon councillor Kelly Fehr in this undated photo.
March 09, 2021 - 5:30 PM

A move put forward by a Vernon councillor in support of decriminalizing the possession of illicit drugs has been defeated.

Councillor Kelly Fehr's motion called on the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and among other things called for the decriminalization of illicit drugs for simple possession.

"We have people in our community young people and old that dabble in drugs that have been dying," Coun. Fehr told council. "We have people far smarter than I am calling to decriminalize personal drug use and to look at pharmaceutical alternatives."

Fehr highlighted that 1,548 people died in B.C. in 2020 due to illicit drug overdoses.

He said the issue wasn't one of harm reduction versus abstinence, but that a response was needed to the overdose crisis that is a poison drug supply crisis.

READ MORE: Drug decriminalization isn't radical, it's already here in the Thompson-Okanagan

In recent months, Vancouver council, Kamloops council and Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance have made the call for illicit drug decriminalization adding their names to a list that includes the provincial government and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

However, with the exception of Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, Fehr couldn't get council to support the move.

"I tried really hard to find something I could support in this motion but I can't," councillor Scott Anderson told the meeting.

Anderson read from a 2,300 word document, which he shared with the media, on the reasons why he wouldn't support the motion. He said the move would burden municipal staff with extra work and give the federal government unchecked power under the status of an "emergency."

Anderson was also critical of the explanation given in favour of drug decriminalization in that it reduces stigma

"The justification on this has never been adequately explained," he said. "Alcohol is perfectly legal but we stigmatize people stumbling around on the street."

Anderson also quoted Vernon North Okanagan RCMP Supt. Shawna Baher, who said her police force does not forward charges to the Crown in cases of simple drug possession.

He said that while he respected the superintendent's opinion he wouldn't support the call for decriminalization.

"Our role is to attempt to balance the interests of hundreds of different citizen interests and make policies that attempt to balance those interests as best we can," Anderson said.

No other councillor spoke to the motion before it was then defeated.

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