Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Marc Dalton has added his voice to those who don’t believe decriminalizing possession of small amounts of hard drugs is going to reduce the tragic number of overdoses in B.C.
Dalton was critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberal government for allowing the change in law that came into effect on Jan. 31.
He said allowing easier access to hard drugs is not going to help, and points out that law enforcement officials tell him they don’t often prosecute people for having small amounts of narcotics.
“There haven’t been convictions for a long time,” said Dalton. “We’re doubling down on policies, that I’m sad to say will make things worse.”
An example of these policies he used was the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver, saying the annual number of overdose deaths in the province was in the hundreds when it was founded in 2003, and now they are in the thousands.
Compared with other provinces, B.C.’s rate of overdoses is the highest, he noted.
The federal government granted a three-year exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so people 18 and older in B.C. will not face criminal charges for possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids, methamphetamine, MDMA or cocaine.
Dalton said the change in law will make it easier for people to take and sell narcotics.
The B.C. government promotes decriminalization as a crucial step in reducing stigma associated with substance abuse.
Dalton said sometimes social pressure is appropriate. When he was a school teacher there was strong messaging, awareness campaigns, aimed at keeping children from starting to smoke tobacco. The number of smokers has continually declined, from where approximately half of Canadians smoked in 1965, to about one in 10 in 2020.
“What are we telling young people now? That it (using opioids) is alright?” he asked. “It’s okay to show public displeasure about some things.”
B.C. 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 make up important messages given in schools.
“We are certainly not saying that drugs are safe to use. But we are saying if you are in trouble with addiction, we want you to reach out to the healthcare system, and that you do not belong in the criminal justice system unless you’re a drug dealer,” Malcolmson said.
She noted trafficking drugs remains illegal, and that’s where law enforcement can focus its efforts.
While Dalton’s viewpoint may be controversial in B.C., he said it’s not in other provinces.
The MP said he would favour an approach like that being taken in Alberta. Right now, it joins B.C. and Ontario as the three provinces where approximately 85 per cent of the country’s fatal overdoses happen.
But Alberta is moving toward more vigorous treatment and recovery, under the guidance of Marshall Smith. He was once homeless and drug addicted in Vancouver, but is now the chief of staff to the premier of Alberta. His vision is to build recovery communities with living accommodations, gyms, and movie theatres, where people can stay for up to a year, and change their lives.
– With files from Black Press