As British Columbia seeks a federal exemption to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal use, an Okanagan city opposes the measure.
The decriminalization aims to stop the wave of deaths from drug intoxication in the province.
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However, the Vernon city council is concerned that public drug use will be more difficult to control, and the city wants to see better services first.
“It eliminates one of the important tools that our surveillance [force] it has to handle people who prefer to wear it in public and that is not acceptable to our community, ”said Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming.
“We need tools that the police can use quickly and easily to manage people in public places.”
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The majority of Vernon’s council voted to write a letter to the province opposing decriminalization, at least for now. The city believes that other supports must be established first.
“We strongly believe that what is needed is a secure supply of drugs, that this idea of decriminalization is not really the first thing to be addressed, and the supply of poisonous drugs is. That’s what’s having the biggest impact on people, ”Cumming said.
“And there needs to be significant new investment in care and treatment.”
The province says it is investing in treatment and recovery services and expanding safer supply prescribedBut you must use all the tools at your disposal, including decriminalization, to reduce stigma and address the public health emergency.
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“Shame and fear prevent people from accessing life-saving services and treatments, and shame and fear can cause people to hide their drug use and use it alone. Using drugs alone can mean dying alone, ”said Addiction and Mental Health Minister Sheila Malcolmson when she announced BC’s request for a federal exception earlier this month.
The province notes that drug trafficking will remain illegal and says decriminalization would not increase the availability of illicit drugs.
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“Decriminalization seeks to preserve and protect the lives of those already involved in substance use by treating them with dignity and respect and encouraging them to seek help when they need it,” the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions said in a statement.
Some in Vernon with lived experience of drug use see a middle ground.
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“Possession should be fine, but making sure people still can’t use it in public,” said Sadie Desarious.
Ultimately, the decision on decriminalization will be made away from Vernon. It will be up to the federal government to decide whether to grant BC the waiver necessary to allow decriminalization to proceed.
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