It has been almost a year since the British Columbia government made changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act, allowing possession of 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs, such as opioids and cocaine, to be decriminalized across the province.

The program, which aims to address B.C.’s critical fight against the toxic drug crisis is set to be effective until Jan. 31, 2026.

For Staff Sgt. Josh Roda with the Merritt RCMP, the changes on the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act had a bigger impact towards awareness, especially with the general public.

“I think the public was more aware this year because of drug decriminalization of people using drugs and there was definitely more drug use out and visible in the community. That’s just the reality,” he said. “We did take a lot of calls downtown from businesses and from the public about people using drugs downtown that we did deal with. I can’t tell you the exact increase, I would say there was an increase, but that is probably to be expected.”

However, Staff Sgt. Roda also recognizes the impact that the decriminalization on the small amount of drugs has had when it comes to policing.

“So previously, when drugs were not decriminalized and they were criminal, drug users wouldn’t be out in public using drugs. And if they were, the police had a very clear way that they could deal with them, right?” he added. “We could arrest people for possession. We could take their drugs, move them along. We don’t have that authority (anymore).”

In an interview with the Herald, Mayor Mike Goetz calls the decriminalization “an absolute disaster.”

“The program doesn’t work. If there was a situation where you were able to monitor, get them into dissuasion centres, get them better, get them help, but right now, there’s nothing except the fact that you carry 2.5 grams of anything you want,” the mayor said.

The mayor added that many municipalities across the province have requested B.C. Minister of Addictions Jennifer Whiteside for a plan or at least a dashboard so the numbers could be monitored to understand what is working and what isn’t.

“We talked to the minister at the UBCM and she told us that there would be a dashboard or a way to predict, to see what numbers were and we got back three days later and they killed the whole thing. ‘We’re not putting a dashboard on sorry, we’ll give you some numbers every once in a while’,” Mayor Goetz said.

For Mayor Goetz, there needs to be a better plan or contextualization on how the program will keep moving forward.

“We need some substance to tell us (what is happening), we got two more years of this program and this is where it’s going on and this is what it’s doing,” he said. “It’s not being run by anybody and it’s basically a ship with no rudder. It’s doing whatever it wants to do. And it’s not good for these communities, that is killing these communities.”