Skeena MP Ellis Ross is calling on British Columbia to come up with a “more comprehensive” prevention plan to tackle hazardous drug use. He said British Columbia moved too quickly in announcing the decriminalization of possession of 2.5 grams or less of illicit drugs.
“When I saw that decriminalization ad come out, I had to say something just because of my personal experience with it,” Ross said in an interview with Black Press. “I had family and friends who suffered from it and even died from it.”
Ross said the language around decriminalization and safe supply makes drugs such as heroin, cocaine and fentanyl less dangerous than they actually are. Words like “safe” and “decriminalization” downplay their deadly effects, he said.
Ross wants a bigger conversation about the harm caused by illegal drugs.
“I grew up around this and all First Nations leaders know it,” said Ross, who is Haisla and a member of BC’s opposition Liberal Party.
“The terminology we use needs to have more substance around it in terms of what it could do to you as a person, as a family and as a community.”
British Columbia’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, told Black Press in an interview that the dangers of drug use and the importance of mental health care are important messages in the schools.
“We are certainly not saying that the drugs are safe to use. But we’re saying if you have addiction issues, we want you to go to the health care system and not to the criminal justice system unless you’re a drug dealer,” Malcolmson said.
“People are inside their own homes and using drugs alone, hiding the challenges they face from family and friends, never having the opportunity to be connected to care.”
Malcolmson said decriminalization is for people over 18 who use drugs, but the drugs themselves remain illegal.
“Trafficking remains illegal and police will be able to focus more of their efforts on drug traffickers,” Malcolmson said.
“Police chiefs have called for decriminalization. Arguably, we would not be here without the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the BC police chiefs who called for decriminalization. It’s a long-standing call. It’s not a new idea.
Ross argued that young people don’t take age limits seriously.
He said decriminalizing small amounts of drugs could make it easier for dealers to evade the law, adding that young people in particular must be deterred from taking up potentially deadly habits.
“I don’t want the next generation of our young people growing up thinking that safe supply is a really good answer, or that decriminalization is a good answer,” Ross said.
“These illicit drugs shouldn’t be an option for the next generation, they shouldn’t be an option for our generation. We need to be honest about this with the people of British Columbia, especially our young people.
Malcolmson said decriminalization “doesn’t make it any easier” for dealerships.
“It allows the police to focus more on drug traffickers. It takes away some of the petty crime and the dangerous re-criminalization of people when their personal supplies are confiscated and need to be replaced,” she said.
Ross said the province needs to highlight the negative effects of drugs like they do with smoking, to stop people from starting in the first place and make people feel bad about the consequences.
“There’s no real campaign to say, this is what happens to you if you get addicted to crystal meth. This is what happens to you if you unknowingly take street drugs or illegal drugs containing fentanyl,” Ross said.
“The idea that we shouldn’t be having this conversation because we’re stigmatizing people who are currently there is wrong. Don’t. You’re a tragedy for life if you do.
Malcolmson countered that the province had worked with health officials, with provincial medical officer of health Dr. Bonnie Henry, and with local governments to craft its request for decriminalization.
“It’s all informed by medical professionals and police (and) only applies to adults,” Malcolmson said.
She said that because the new laws will not be implemented until January, the authorities will have time to prepare their approach.
“It’s exactly this timeframe that will drive both police training and anti-stigma messaging – which is so important to stopping people from using drugs alone – because that’s what kills the most people. people.”
Ross said he would like to see something concrete before the new policies take effect.
“I’m not getting any signals that there’s something coming to complete (decriminalization) and January 2023 is going to happen pretty quickly.”
Ross said there should have been a debate in the BC legislature and more consultation with communities across the province. This would have resulted in a well-balanced and effective plan for the entire province, he argued.
“There are 87 MPs in British Columbia who could have brought their own experiences and opinions to represent their regions. It’s our communities that are really resisting what’s happening on the streets,” Ross said.
“We could have settled this if we had had a debate in the Legislative Assembly and had actually talked to the people of British Columbia. Then we could all have come back as MPs and explained it to our residents,” Ross said.
“At this point, we can’t tell our constituents what’s going on.”
Malcolmson said the opposition chose not to participate in the debate.
“BC Liberals have gone through a long, long leadership campaign where the word decriminalization has never been mentioned once that we can tell,” she said.
“We are taking advice from the BC Association of Chiefs of Police, public health and people with lived experience to add a new tool that combats the toxic drug crisis.
She said B.C. is adding hundreds of new treatment beds to the health care system, along with a safe prescribed supply, while using tools like the Lifeguard app to help prevent overdoses.
“These are all things the BC Liberals have not added to the health care system and I’m proud that we are.”
The province has described the approved 2.5-gram threshold as “a floor, not a ceiling,” meaning police will have discretion when people are found to be in possession of larger amounts.
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