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BC Cities Advocate for Drug Decriminalization with a Focus on Ensuring Safe Spaces for Children

Since the decriminalization of small amounts of hard drugs in British Columbia, police have been unable to prevent drug use in public places where children gather. Although the province recently imposed a ban on illicit drugs within 15 meters of playgrounds, city councillors and mayors argue that this measure is insufficient. They believe the ban should extend to other areas where children may encounter drug use and used needles. This includes places like the library in Smithers, B.C., where drug use is not currently prohibited. Councillor Frank Wray expressed his concerns about this issue, stating that drug abuse was a problem even before decriminalization, but now the police have no authority to intervene. Some elected officials supported a resolution from the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) to further regulate drug possession and use in various public spaces. However, there were arguments against this resolution, claiming that it stigmatizes drug use and contradicts the province’s decriminalization pilot. Despite differing opinions, the need to balance public safety and helping those struggling with addiction is recognized. This issue has been discussed in city council meetings across the province. In February, New Westminster city councillors proposed a resolution to the UBCM to add public park spaces designed for children to the list of banned areas. Concerns were raised about the open use of hard drugs in the downtown core where children and their parents frequently visit. The struggle to navigate decriminalization laws and the lack of exceptions for public places has hindered law enforcement officials from addressing illicit drug use. Health Canada granted an exemption to British Columbia for its decriminalization pilot, but this exemption only includes certain locations such as schools and airports. Critics argue that decriminalization and the “safe supply” approach adopted in B.C. have actually increased drug use. Overdose rates in the province remain high. Municipal officials are urging the province to come up with a comprehensive plan to address the drug health emergency and provide better access to treatment and recovery services. However, smaller communities like Smithers face challenges in providing adequate support due to limited resources and remote locations. The province is expected to introduce legislation in the fall of 2023 to regulate public drug use more effectively.

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