More comprehensive approach needed to drug decriminalization in B.C.

Stop drug use in parks

Recent drug overdose numbers are skyrocketing.

Kelowna downtown businesses have had workers threatened, customers harassed and have seen a negative impact on livelihoods and an increase in stress levels. People don’t feel safe anymore.

In January, the provincial government decriminalized the use of hard drugs everywhere. That means the police can’t stop someone from openly using (drugs) in City Park, Cameron Park or in any of the parks in Kelowna, even if there are playgrounds, childcare centres or athletic parks.There are prohibitions of drug use in schools and daycares, but not in playgrounds that happen to be near them.

It’s fair to say drug use in certain parks was already a problem, however with the decriminalization, law enforcement has one less tool to use in combatting it.

Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas recently went to Victoria to meet with Central Okanagan MLAs, as well as have us arrange meetings with some of the provincial ministers involved in the decriminalization decision.

His ask was simple—exclude parks from the scope of drug decriminalization in an effort to protect children and families who frequent these public spaces.

As the MLA for Kelowna Mission, I joined MLAs Ben Stewart (Kelowna West) and Norm Letnick (Kelowna Lake Country) and echoed Dyas’ call with a letter pressing the government by calling for the same action.

As a mom, I am devastated for what this means for the safety of our children, and what this does to their safe spaces. How does a mom or dad check for needles and paraphernalia everywhere?

Dyas' request comes at a time when the issue of drug decriminalization is at the forefront of public discourse. My party, as the official Opposition, has made it clear it does not support decriminalization without the necessary recovery and treatment supports in place. As it currently stands, Kelowna lacks the infrastructure to provide these essential services.

A study done at Kelowna’s supportive housing sites by Dr. Hannah Gibson, and published in the B.C. Medical Journal, found tenants often don’t have access to the supports they need.

Supportive housing tenants in B.C.'s Central Okanagan often do not have access to other health-care services they need too, according to the study, which says more funding is needed for more treatment beds and other housing options.

With only five of the 20 promised complex care beds available and a long way to go to meet the requested 150 beds, Kelowna is facing a critical shortage in resources. The current situation highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to drug decriminalization that goes beyond simply allowing drug use in public spaces.

While the decriminalization of drugs can be part of the solution, it must be accompanied by a solid framework of recovery and treatment options for those struggling with addiction. BC United leader Kevin Falcon has also echoed this call for protection of park spaces.

“While simple activities like having a beer at your local public park or using a plastic straw are tightly regulated, the premier's policy allows completely uncontrolled consumption of lethal drugs like crystal meth, crack cocaine and fentanyl,” he stated in the Legislature:

“Neighbourhoods, as a result, are being plagued by discarded drugs and drug paraphernalia, forcing families to worry about their children stumbling upon needles in parks, beaches and playgrounds.”

Kelowna needs protected park spaces and we need a more balanced and holistic approach to treatment. Our community must prioritize the establishment of treatment and recovery programs that can cater to the unique needs of those battling addiction. This should include the development of more complex care beds and the expansion of existing support services.

Furthermore, we must consider the impact of decriminalization on the safety and well-being of our children and families. Excluding parks from decriminalized drug use zones is a reasonable measure to ensure that public spaces remain safe and welcoming for all residents.

I urge the provincial government and stakeholders to take a more comprehensive approach to drug decriminalization in Kelowna. This should involve the implementation of robust recovery and treatment support services, as well as a thoughtful consideration of the public spaces where drug use should be permitted.

My question to you this week is this:

Do you support decriminalized open drug use in our parks?

I love hearing from you and read every email I receive. 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.

More MLA Minute articles

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.

Previous Stories