British Columbia’s provincial health officer (PHO) is calling for the decriminalization of drug users.
Earlier today, Dr. Bonnie Henry released her report entitled Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in BC.
The report makes a strong claim that the decriminalization of people who possess illegal drugs for personal use could help battle BC’s overdose crisis.
“There is widespread global recognition that the failed ‘war on drugs’ and the resulting criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs has not reduced drug use but instead has increased health harms,” reads the 49-page report.
Dr. Henry urges the provincial government to consider decriminalization, meaning that the possession of illicit substances for personal use would not lead to a criminal record.
“Experts, including people with lived experience, agree that our existing drug laws are further stigmatizing people living with addiction,” she says. “The decriminalization… is the next logical and responsible step we must take to keep people alive.”
The report explains that decriminalization could take place through two different provincial mechanisms.
The first option would be to use provincial legislation to guide law enforcement in decriminalizing and de-stigmatizing people who use drugs.
This would provide pathways and allow police to connect users with health and social services. It would also opt for the use of administrative penalties rather than criminal charges in the case of possession.
The second option would be to develop a new regulation under the Police Act that would prevent any member of a police force in BC from expending resources on the enforcement of drug possession.
Henry also explains that although the province is scaling treatment and recovery services, people need to be protected from a highly-toxic supply of street drugs.
Over 3,000 people in BC have died from overdose within the past two years and it’s estimated that while there are over 115,000 living with opioid use disorder, only a small percentage actually receive treatment.
Should some form of decriminalization be put in place, British Columbia would join over 30 different countries with similar policies.
Portugal, Australia, Spain, Uruguay, Norway, Chile, and some US jurisdictions are exploring, or have in place, a policy that decriminalizes people for similar possession and drug use.
The full report can be found here.