Penticton's top police officer says the recently announced trial period decriminalizing possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in British Columbia has not changed much on the ground locally.
Under the new rules, adults are allowed to freely possess a so-called personal amount — less than 2.5 grams — of drugs, including opioids (such as heroin, morphine and fentanyl), crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.
South Okanagan Supt. Brian Hunter spoke to the change at Tuesday's city council meeting, saying his understanding of the goals of the policy from a policing perspective is to reduce stigma in the hope of saving lives, which had already been part of his approach.
"I can tell you I can't remember the last time we charge somebody for simple possession of hard drugs anyway, it's not like we've been out there arresting folks for small amounts of hard drugs," Hunter said.
"We've always taken the notion of trying to get our vulnerable clients the help that they need, so that legislation exemption is in alignment with that, and the idea is harm reduction."
Hunter also explained there has been no difference in calls for police service since the new legislation, but one change is their ability to confiscate drugs.
"Prior to this legislation, if we did get a call for service, it would be an attendance looking for the welfare [of the person]," Hunter said.
"Certainly we had the option to seize the drugs and have individuals move on from using in public. That authority no longer exists with the new exemption, and we'll certainly be working with bylaw and community members to manage that."
The new legislation is in effect on a trial basis from Jan. 31, 2023 to Jan. 31, 2026. It has been the target of criticism from local Penticton organizations that work with addicted individuals, claiming it is only a small step in the right direction rather than a solution.