B.C.’s green light to decriminalize 2.5 grams of street drugs – the latest move to curb staggering toxic drug poisonings – is being viewed by a group of Victoria mothers as a good start, but the threshold needs to be increased.
Beginning on Jan. 31, 2023, British Columbians 18 and older will be allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of street drugs on them, which can include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA.
It’s an appreciated step forward – and a small one that was needed long ago, said Moms Stop the Harm member Kathleen Radu, but falls two grams short of the 4.5-gram possession amount requested by the province to Health Canada.
“To have it come out at 2.5-level feels like a pit in our stomach,” she said, adding that as the province pilots prescription alternatives, such a small amount will just drive drug users further into the dangerous and toxic illicit market.
Radu lost her son, Morgan Goodridge, to carfentanil poisoning just days after he turned 26 in 2020. It came on his sixth relapse and after 18 months of treatment. Carfentanil, used to tranquilize elephants, is 100 times more deadly than illicit fentanyl.
“Most people hide their drug use, or they use alone like my son. He was in treatment, he used alone, he didn’t reach out to anyone because he was afraid of the repercussions and this is what continues to drive this crisis.”
While B.C. has had to go to bat for all of Canada, Radu said the federal government’s patchwork approach has left it up to smaller jurisdictions to meet the crisis.
National decriminalization of all possession for personal use is needed immediately, she added. The advocate said a 2.5-gram limit will only perpetuate the system where most users don’t seek help and die alone.
“Decriminalization is the first step in allowing us to dismantle the shame and the stigma that’s around substance use and it allows to actually look at it the way we should be, which is it’s a health issue.”
Health Canada says the months leading up to Jan. 31 will be used to train law enforcement and health authorities, educate the public on the change, as well as work with First Nations and Indigenous leaders to ensure safe implementation.
Victoria police chief Del Manak said the capital city department has viewed addiction and substance use as a health issue, not a criminal one, for years.
“VicPD welcomes this announcement and supports the decriminalization of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use to reduce stigmatization, direct individuals to a pathway of health, and avoid the criminalization of persons who use drugs,” Manak said in Tuesday statement.
The police chief reiterated the department will focus its enforcement around drug importing, production and distribution.
Manak and Radu agree that the root causes of addiction and drug use need to be addressed alongside improvements to treatment, public education and harm reduction.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed all levels of governments can rapidly take action, Radu said, so seven months for any decriminalization is far too long. “We can’t afford to lose one more life, we can’t afford to have one more family thrown into a lifetime of grief,” Radu said. “We’ve been dragging our heels for the last four months, why are we going to wait and why are we going to have to bury so many more people before this can be implemented.”
An average of more than five people died each day in March due to the toxic drug supply. Victoria had the province’s third-most overdose deaths through the first three months of 2022, trailing only Vancouver and Surrey.
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