The government of British Columbia, alongside the federal government, have decriminalized hard drugs in our province under a three-year pilot program.
That means that people can use and possess small amounts of drugs without fear of criminal repercussions.
In implementing decriminalization, the province came up with a list of certain areas where this wouldn’t apply— including schools and daycares. That seems like common sense.
However, much to the displeasure of many mayors—from Kelowna to Penticton to Sicamous—the list of exempted locations does not include municipal playgrounds and parks.
Municipal opposition even caught the attention of BC United MLAs (formerly B.C. Liberals) who took the issue on in Victoria. From party leader Kevin Falcon, to BC United MLAs Norm Letnick (Kelowna-Lake Country), Renee Merrifield (Kelowna-Mission), Ben Stewart (Kelowna West) and Peter Milobar (Kamloops-North Thompson), opposition has been fierce. Yet, from the government there has been no movement.
Locally ,in the Okanagan, the pushback against local governments and BC United has come from the Interior Health Authority.
“Punitive approaches would be perpetuating the harms we are trying to reduce with this exemption,” stated the IHA. “These harms also include stigma and shame that force people to conceal their substance use and use alone, increasing their risk of dying from substance poisoning”.
Does drug-use stigma kill? Yes, absolutely. It’s why we often hear of people dying alone in their homes from drug overdoses. These people are our children, neighbours, work colleagues and friends. People’s closest friends may not even know they recreationally use drugs because of the stigma associated with drug use. For that reason, they use drugs alone. That is a fact that cannot be ignored.
However, the same simply cannot be said for those people willing to use drugs openly in parks and playgrounds. I’m sorry, but if people are willing to use drugs on a playground, I don’t believe they have any concern around the stigma or shame associated with drug use. If they did, they wouldn’t be using drugs in a children’s playground.
If suddenly they are told they cannot use drugs in the park, they won’t suddenly resort to using drugs alone in their basement. That’s simply nonsensical.
The government stating that it is decriminalizing drug use, while adding “sorry you still won’t be able to use drugs in playgrounds, schools or daycares” doesn’t create more stigma, it simply puts in reasonable protections for people who don’t use drugs.
We need ensure that in protecting drug users, we don’t endanger non-drug users.
Another argument we’ve heard against exempting playgrounds from drug use is that people already use drugs there and it’s already a problem, so what does banning their use do in the first place?
This is true in many parks, but by suddenly allowing drug use in parks, enforcement officers, like bylaw or RCMP officers, will no longer have the ability to move drug use out of parks. That means the problem in parks where it is already an issue could get worse. So while yes, people are unlikely to listen to the new rules, without the rules there’s nothing the RCMP can do stop people, which can simply make the problem worse.
The poisoned drug supply and the addictions crisis facing British Columbia is severe and requires immediate action. The Portugal model of care which involves decriminalization is often held up as a solution, however what is occurring in B.C. is not that.
The government is implementing the decriminalization portion of the Portugal model without the wraparound services and care portion of the Portugal model.
The government has simply picked the cheapest and easiest parts of the Portugal model to implement, while ignoring the difficult, expensive and effective portions of the model, while simply hoping for the best.
Asking to keep drug use out of parks and playgrounds is reasonable to ensure children’s safety. The reason for the opposition from government is astonishing.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.