Pressure growing to end drug decriminalization in B.C.

Decriminalization's impact

As the dust settles on the recent Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) conference, one issue looms large for municipal leaders across British Columbia—drug decriminalization.

Merritt sponsored a resolution that would have the Union of B.C. Municipalities ask the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to create a statistic dashboard to provide data on the impact of decriminalization, to “demonstrate whether the continuation of the pilot program is of benefit to communities.”

Currently, no such dashboard, or other data delivery system, exists for municipalities in B.C.

The move sheds light on the uncomfortable truth—the burden of addressing the fallout of decriminalization is being unfairly downloaded onto municipalities, placing strain on already stretched resources.

Just last week, the RCMP superintendent in Fort St. John, alongside Mayor Lilia Hansen—taking the request one step further than SILGA—asked for the failed decriminalization policy of the NDP to end.

Decriminalization, once hailed as a progressive step forward, now reveals its complexities as municipalities grapple with the unintended consequences.

While the intention was to shift the approach towards addiction from punishment to rehabilitation, the reality on the ground paints a different picture. Municipalities are left to contend with the fallout, facing a surge in addiction-related issues without the necessary treatment, justice system, housing, support or funding.

One cannot ignore the harsh reality that municipalities simply do not have the financial means to provide adequate support for the growing number of people addicted to drugs and associated problems.

There is only one taxpayer. The burden of addiction services, healthcare and social support falls heavily on local governments, who are left scrambling to allocate funds amidst competing priorities. This strain on resources inevitably translates into compromised services and diminished quality of life for residents.

The call by the leaders at SILGA for data on the impacts of decriminalization is not merely a bureaucratic request, it is a desperate plea for transparency and accountability.

Municipalities are being asked to navigate uncharted territory without access to vital information that could inform policy decisions and resource allocation. The lack of comprehensive data underscores a broader failure on the part of the B.C. government to adequately assess and address the repercussions of their policies. The data collection and distribution was to be done as a condition the federal government imposed when granting decriminalization.

Last week, the provincial government agreed in a standing vote on first reading of a private member's bill put forward by BC United’s leader, Kevin Falcon, that would end decriminalization. That agreement by the NDP speaks volumes about the shortcomings of the current approach.

The government’s strategy deployed for those addicted to drugs is fatally flawed. Society at large is desperate for a fundamental reassessment of the decriminalization strategy.

It is time for the B.C. government to take responsibility for the unintended consequences of decriminalization and provide the necessary support and resources to municipalities. That means more than just passing the buck or offering lip service—it requires concrete action and meaningful investment in addiction treatment, mental health services, and social support programs.

The difficulty comes from a lack of an alternative solution, as the government does not have a “Plan B.”

The resolution adopted by SILGA delegates serves as a wake-up call to policymakers at both the provincial and municipal levels. Decriminalization may have been well-intentioned but its implementation left a trail of challenges in its wake.

My question to you is this:

Do you support Kevin Falcon’s private member’s bill to end decriminalization in B.C.? 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.

Renee Merrifield is the Kelowna-Mission 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.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and Opposition caucus whip and critic for Environment and Climate Change, Technology and Innovation and Citizens’ Services. She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee on Education 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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