Decriminalization of drugs has not worked and should be repealed says MLA

Decriminalization failure

Decriminalization of drugs was pitched as a compassionate reform, aimed at transforming how we treat addiction and reducing the stigma associated with drug use.

It was supposed to include an extensive system of treatment, data analysis, and transparency. None of that happened.

The reality that has unfolded paints a starkly different picture—one where the repercussions of such policies have proven not only counterproductive but downright harmful to the fabric of our communities. Our parks and playgrounds, once vibrant and safe spaces for recreation and family gatherings, are now frequently marred by the presence of discarded drug paraphernalia, garbage and even unused drugs.

This is a direct fallout from a decriminalization policy that has inadvertently prioritized the freedoms of drug users over the safety and well-being of the broader public, especially our children. It is simply unacceptable that our youngest, most vulnerable citizens are now exposed to such hazards in places specifically designed for their play and development.

While this was changed in the fall by the government after consistent pressing from the BC United Opposition, the courts have issued an injunction against it until it can be evaluated. Rather than use the “Notwithstanding Clause,” this government has been content to wait.

Meanwhile, our children’s and families’ safety is threatened.

The situation in our healthcare facilities is equally alarming. Hospitals, meant to be sanctuaries of healing, are increasingly grappling with on-site drug use and even contending with drug dealing, which not only disrupts patient care but also places additional strains and risk on our healthcare workers.

This diversion of focus is not just a minor inconvenience, it compromises the quality of health care for all patients and stresses our medical systems.

The role and efficacy of our law enforcement has undermined by decriminalization. The RCMP and other police forces are caught in a limbo of unclear policies and conflicting mandates. Officers are frequently uncertain about how to respond to drug-related incidents, given the leniency imposed by decriminalization. This not only hampers their ability to maintain public order but also demoralizes them.

A demoralized police force is less effective and less equipped to handle the range of challenges it faces, which ultimately impacts community safety and public trust in our law enforcement institutions.

The evidence is overwhelming, and the conclusion is clear, decriminalization—as it currently stands—has failed. The anticipated balance between offering a compassionate approach to drug addiction and maintaining public safety has not materialized. Instead, it has led to increased public health risks, compromised safety in communal spaces, and an overburdened healthcare system.

Furthermore, other jurisdictions where decriminalization policies have been tried, have already repealed them. Oregon was hailed as a gold standard of harm reduction by the B.C. NDP government, and Oregon just reversed course last month and canceled decriminalization. The government of B.C. should do so as well. It is time for a decisive pivot.

We must repeal these decriminalization policies and re-establish laws that prioritize the safety and security of the general populace. We should empower our law enforcement officials with the clarity and authority they need to effectively manage and prevent drug-related issues.

Compassion for those struggling with addiction is crucial, but it should not come at the expense of community safety or general welfare. The experiment with decriminalization needs to end now. We must refocus our efforts on strategies that genuinely safeguard public health and safety while providing robust support for addiction treatment and recovery.

That means funding more addiction recovery programs, enhancing mental health support, and ensuring these services are accessible to those in need without compromising the safety and well-being of our communities.

Let's put an end to this failed experiment and take a stand for the safety and health of all our citizens.

My question to you is this:

Do you agree that decriminalization of drugs should end?

I love hearing from you and read every email you send. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


B.C's latest credit rating downgrade spells trouble says MLA

Credit rating trouble

The B.C. economy is in bad shape.

The recent downgrade of British Columbia’s credit rating proved what we have all known—the BC NDP government is spending more money than the economy is generating and our economy is sputtering to a crawl.

British Columbia’s credit rating was cut by S&P Global Ratings with a negative outlook—its third downgrade in three years—specifically because of the provincial government’s borrowing.

In February, the B.C. government projected a record deficit of nearly $8 billion for the 2024-25 fiscal year, and S&P noted the province’s fiscal performance is likely to “materially deteriorate in the next two years.”

With operating deficits equal to more than 5% of operating revenue, and after-capital deficits of about 20% of total revenue, “B.C.’s budgetary performance will be the weakest of its peers, both domestically and internationally,” it said.

Moody’s Investors Service also cut its outlook for the province to “negative” on Tuesday.

“The province’s willingness to allow material deficits to continue, along with rising debt levels, also points to weaker governance risk controls and financial management,” Moody’s said.

This is not just a numerical dip on a financial analyst's spreadsheet, it is a dire warning signal that spells real-world consequences for every taxpayer in the province.

Why does it matter? This latest credit rating reduction, a critical red flag, is poised to escalate borrowing costs, curtail funding to vital public programs, and burden B.C.’s economy.

The credit rating of a province is akin to a person's credit score—it influences the interest rates lenders charge on money borrowed. A downgrade indicates a higher risk associated with lending to the province, which naturally results in increased interest rates.

Each uptick in interest rates compounds the amount the government must pay, diverting funds that could otherwise support public services or reduce taxation. The result is a vicious cycle—higher costs mean higher debts, which in turn lead to further downgrades if not managed prudently.

For British Columbia, that means when the government borrows money for infrastructure, healthcare, education or other public services, it will face higher costs. Those elevated expenses are not absorbed by the government alone but are inevitably passed down to taxpayers, who will bear this financial burden through increased taxes or reduced services.

Moreover, the downgrade impacts the amount of money available for public sector projects, whether they are new hospitals, schools or roads, and could see delays or cuts. Funding that might have been allocated for improving public services or expanding new initiatives will now need to be redirected to cover the increased interest expenses. That scenario limits the government’s ability to respond to public needs and stifles the development of infrastructure that supports economic growth.

The financial repercussions of a credit downgrade extend beyond immediate fiscal pressures. It sends a chilling signal to investors and businesses considering British Columbia as a location for investment or expansion.

Economic growth is fuelled by confidence and a downgrade can erode this critical sentiment, leading to reduced investment and slower economic development. This erosion of investor confidence is particularly damaging at a time when B.C. should be capitalizing on its sectors of strength to foster recovery and growth.

For years, as the official Opposition, BC United has rung the alarm bell, cautioning against the provincial government’s rampant spending patterns. Regrettably, those warnings have not only been ignored but are now manifesting as fiscal obstacles that will challenge the province for years to come.

With the past three provincial budgets, we have consistently pointed out the perilous path of unchecked provincial spending. The warning was clear—without a strong commitment to fiscal responsibility, British Columbia risked a situation where it would not only face credit downgrades but also a potential fiscal crisis that could hinder its economic prospects for years.

The government’s failure to heed those warnings has placed an unnecessary strain on the fiscal health of the province.

The downgrade of British Columbia’s credit rating is a clear indictment of the government’s current fiscal policy direction. It is a wakeup call for a strategic reassessment of how the province manages its finances.

My question to you is this:

Are you concerned about the size of BC’s deficit? Why or why not?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Reneee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Parent's heartbreaking tale of son's addiction just one example of current drug crisis

Finding help for addicts

As I reflect on the countless conversations I've had with parents across British Columbia, one thing has become painfully clear—families are at their breaking point, forced into impossible decisions by a crisis that seems to grow more dire by the day.

Nearly a year ago, I met Stacy (I have changed her name to protect her son’s identity), a mother whose world was turned upside down by her son's struggle with addiction. She came to me not just as a legislator but as a fellow parent, seeking to make sense of a system that seemed indifferent to her despair.

She booked an appointment with me to discuss B.C.’s drug policy. When I walked into the boardroom, she had pictures spread out in front of my chair. I sat down and she started to speak.

“This is my son when he was 11. When he was 12 and 13—the year he first tried marijuana," she said.

“Then 14, 15—the year I was told that the only way to get him treatment for his addictions and help was to turn him over to MCFD (the Ministry of Children and Family Development). He was committed but KGH released him immediately, saying they didn’t have a bed for him.

“Here he is at 16, and here is where he was at 17, when he was kicked out of the group home. This is how I found him when I came to get him.”

Three photos were haunting. I saw a boy becoming a shell of a teenager, completely obliterated by his addiction. But I looked closer. What was that next to him in the photo of him at 17? No, it couldn’t be. But it was— a tent and a sleeping bag.

This mom told me the story of her son’s addiction and showed me the seven prescriptions he has filled every week—for free. Dilaudid, gabapentin and hydromorphone to name three.

She looked at me with disgust and showed me her son today, at 18.

“This, this is what your province’s drug policies have done to my son,” she said. “I don’t know if he will make it to 19.”

My heart broke looking at the last picture she showed me. He was a shell. Hallow. Empty. Without hope.

From his first experimentation to the shocking reality of his life at 18, homeless and battling severe addiction, Stacy's story was a poignant reminder of the stakes we're dealing with.

It's a narrative far too many British Columbian families can relate to, as they watch their loved ones slip away, while effective help remains frustratingly out of reach. The choice some families face, between mortgaging their homes or leaving their children without the care they desperately need, is a decision no one should ever have to make.

It's a stark reflection of a system that has left too many behind, despite the soaring number of overdose deaths—a record high last year—that underscores the escalating scale of this tragedy.

Under the current NDP administration, we've seen policies that have failed to address the root causes of addiction and provide the comprehensive support needed. The decriminalization efforts, for instance, have sparked debate and concern over their impact on public safety and the well-being of those they're meant to help.

It's become increasingly clear a new approach is needed—one that prioritizes recovery and ensures treatment is accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. It’s time to restore hope because better is possible.

BC United launched our mental health and addictions policy over a year ago, a recovery-oriented system of care, one that respects the dignity of every British Columbian and offers real hope for the future. This isn't just about policies or politics, it's about people. It's about rebuilding lives, restoring families, and reclaiming the promise of a community that looks after its own. The heartbreak must end.

Together, we can turn the tide on addiction in British Columbia, but it requires us all to stand united in our resolve to make a difference. Let's make that commitment today, for Stacy, for her son and for every family fighting to find a way out of the darkness.

My question to you is this:

Do you think that a treatment and recovery system is better than what we have today?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the B.C. United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Kelowna at a 'critical juncture' says MLA

Downtown problems

This last two weeks at home have been amazing.

I love hiking up in Mission Ridge Park, going for coffee in the SOPA area (in South Pandosy), enjoying a meal from the newly reopened Olympia Taverna (in Rutland), and walking around downtown Kelowna.

We have such an amazing city.

However, amidst this joy, a dark shadow looms. Distressing headlines have surfaced recently, painting a grim picture. Vandals struck the Von Schweets Treat Shop (on Bernard Avenue downtown) just weeks after its grand re-opening following a closure of 65 days.

Similarly, Bia Boro (on the same street) fell victim to another robbery, with shattered glass and stolen goods marking the aftermath. Additionally, alarming images of fires set ablaze near residential buildings have surfaced, along with reports of a man involved in an attempted stabbing at a business on Banks Road being caught and subsequently released.

The question echoes through our streets—what is happening to our once vibrant urban spaces?

The essence of our city cores, once bustling with life and offering a safe haven for families and visitors, now stands at a critical juncture. The visible surge in drug use and petty crime, following the path of (drug) decriminalization, not only jeopardizes public safety but also poses a significant threat to our local businesses.

Many shop owners, who have poured their hearts and souls into their establishments, now face the heartbreaking decision to close their doors, citing the changing environment as a direct impact on their customer foot traffic and overall sense of security.

The narrative of Kelowna, as it stands, is one of caution. The sight of closed shopfronts and the palpable tension in the air serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of policy decisions that do not fully account for their wide-ranging impacts.

It is imperative we take a step back and consider the holistic wellbeing of our community, ensuring that efforts to support those battling addiction are balanced with measures that safeguard public safety and the economic vitality of our downtown area.

The revolving door of the criminal justice system spins ever faster, leaving us bewildered. Stores are fortifying their security measures, installing cameras, bars, and increasing the presence of guards. Many no longer keep their doors unlocked during business hours, a testament to the brazenness of criminals.

Assaults persist, driving away employees who no longer feel safe working in our urban centres. These audacious crimes have ignited debates about the delicate balance between compassion and accountability.

While there's consensus on the need for a compassionate approach to substance abuse and mental health, there's a growing demand for measures to ensure Kelowna remains a safe haven for all. That necessitates enhanced policing, better coordination of social services and community-led initiatives to address the root causes of addiction and homelessness, while simultaneously tackling criminal elements.

This is the reality we face after seven years under under David Eby's leadership—first as attorney general and now as premier.

The current administration's lack of solutions is glaring. Decriminalization, touted as an answer, has proven insufficient without substantial investments in mental health and addiction treatment facilities.

The challenges we face require a nuanced approach, one that recognizes the delicate balance between compassion for individuals struggling with substance abuse and the need for accountability to maintain order and safety.

We first need the government to show some humility and admit its approach is not working.

Reforms within the justice system are imperative, the current catch-and-release approach only exacerbates the situation. Criminals must face consequences for their actions.

Considering those concerns, we need a concerted effort among policymakers, law enforcement, social services and the business community to forge a path forward.

That includes the immediate enhancement of police presence to deter criminal activity, a change to the justice system so criminals suffer consequences for their choices, the expansion of mental health and addiction treatment services and the implementation of community-led initiatives aimed at revitalizing our urban areas.

This fall we go to the polls. BC United has laid out its plan for tackling these issues. We will not accept this new reality because we know better is possible.

My question to you is this:

Do you feel safe in our urban areas? Why or why not?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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