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The two sides of decriminalizing drug possession

The plan recognizes addiction as medical problem, as opposed to a criminal one
File photo

As of Jan. 31, small amounts of hard drugs including heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine will no longer be illegal to possess in B.C.

It’s a flank in the province-wide assault on the illicit drug crisis that focuses on helping, rather than shaming, drug users and involves police, social services, and health care workers.

The plan recognizes addiction as medical problem, as opposed to a criminal one.

Producing and selling drugs remain against the law.

Those in favour of the approach believe reducing the stigma surrounding drug use will make find it easier for sufferers to seek treatment.

The say it will allow law enforcement to concentrate its resources on dismantling drug labs and the criminal networks that support trafficking. It will also reduce stress on a beleaguered court system for what is essentially an inevitability.

Arguments against decriminalization include the concern that reducing stigma could actually increase drug use under the perceived umbrella of social acceptance. That could potentially, especially, impact youth.

It’s also suggested that decriminalization is the step before legalization – which in some ways is a distinction without a difference – towards the way that alcohol and cannabis are legal products regulated by government.

Others pointed out the idea does nothing to address criminal activity surrounding drug use, including property theft. Sadly, there will always be people who believe that drugs are bad only because someone took their lawnmower.

Approximately 25 countries have already decriminalized drug possession, with various thresholds, however some of these nations have retained small fines or mandatory treatment. Their reported results are encouraging.

Portugal was the first to make the move, in 2001, as a response to a crisis that saw 10 per cent of its population using heroin. What followed was a reduction in overdoses and injection-related disease like HIV and hepatitis.

Success will rely on ensuring that the people who possess drugs on Feb. 1 are actually being connected with mental health and addiction supports, and that those supports have enough funding and enough professionals to make an impact.

In the Interior Health Authority two “decriminalization leads” have been hired to assist at the community level.

While not everyone agrees with decriminalization, no one can ignore that almost six British Columbians per day lose their lives to drugs.

There is a new battle plan and hopefully it works.

Because we can’t keep losing this war.

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