In the midst of an epidemic that has claimed more than 7,700 lives in the past six years, the province is looking to change course.
B.C. has applied to the federal government to decriminalize simple possession of street drugs in the province.
If approved, Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said in an announcement Monday (Nov. 1), the exemption would help reduce the fear and shame associated with substance use that prevents people from seeking care – a problem she says isn’t a criminal issue.
“B.C. is adding new health and substance-use care services almost weekly, but we know shame prevents many people from accessing life-saving care. That’s why it’s crucial to decriminalize people who use drugs,” Malcolmson said.
According to an Angus Reid poll in February, 66 per cent of British Columbians support the application.
A report from the B.C. Coroners Service showed there were 184 suspected deaths as a result of illicit drugs in July 2021, two short of the monthly record for the province, which occurred in June 2020.
The 1,204 deaths recorded during the first seven months of this year puts 2021 on pace to be the deadliest yet in B.C. Of those who have died, 72 per cent were between the ages of 30 and 59 and males accounted for 79 per cent of the total deaths.
The province said in a statement the application is supported by health and social service providers, Indigenous partners, those with lived experience and research and advocacy groups.
In 2020, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced its support for decriminalizing simple possession, a campaign led by the Vancouver Police Department’s Adam Palmer.
“Arresting individuals for simple position of illicit drugs is ineffective … it does not save lives,” he said.
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