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EDITORIAL: The two sides of decriminalizing drug possession

‘There is a new battle plan and hopefully it works, because we can’t keep losing this war’
Advocates for decriminalization and safe supply of drugs stood outside Nelson’s city hall on April 14, 2022. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

As of Jan. 31, small amounts of hard drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine will no longer be illegal to possess in B.C.

It’s a flank in the provincewide assault on the illicit drug crisis that focuses on helping, rather than shaming, drug users and involves police, social services, and health care workers.

The plan recognizes addiction as medical problem, as opposed to a criminal one.

Producing and selling drugs remain against the law.

Those in favour of the approach believe reducing the stigma surrounding drug use will make it easier for sufferers to seek treatment.

READ MORE: B.C. poised for drug decriminalization experiment, but will it help stem deadly tide?

They say it will allow law enforcement to concentrate resources on dismantling drug labs and criminal networks that support trafficking. It will also reduce stress on a beleaguered court system for what is essentially an inevitability.

Arguments against decriminalization include the concern that reducing stigma could actually increase drug use under the perceived umbrella of social acceptance, which could impact youth.

It’s also suggested that decriminalization is the step before legalization – which in some ways is a distinction without a difference – towards the way that alcohol and cannabis are legal products regulated by government.

Others pointed out the idea does nothing to address criminal activity surrounding drug use, including property theft. Sadly, there will always be people who believe that drugs are bad only because someone took their lawnmower.

Many countries have already decriminalized drug possession, however some of these nations have retained small fines or mandatory treatment. Their results are encouraging.

Portugal was the first to make the move, in 2001, as a response to a crisis that saw 10 per cent of its population using heroin. What followed was a reduction in overdoses and injection-related disease like HIV and hepatitis.

Success will rely on ensuring that the people who possess drugs on Feb. 1 are actually being connected with mental health and addiction supports, and that those supports have enough funding and enough professionals to make an impact.

There is a new battle plan and hopefully it works, because we can’t keep losing this war.

– Black Press Media

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