Since certain drugs were decriminalized in small portions in B.C. in Jan. 2023, Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz has been openly critical of the process and repercussions.

In a recent meeting with Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside, Goetz said that he spoke with the minister about B.C.’s ‘drug tourism’ problem, meaning that many of the prominent drug users in the community are not local.

“Many of the people using in our community right now are not from B.C., they’re from Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Manitoba….they come here, they can use here, and it is legal. But back in their provinces, it is not.”

Goetz described what sounds like a ‘revolving door’ process.

“So they come here, they carry, they get into trouble, they get arrested…and (Minister Whiteside) wanted to know how we know this. It is because they are arrested locally and we then find out where they’re from.”

He said that the minister seemed surprised when hearing this.

“I thought, ‘are you kidding me?’ Of course if you’re going to be legal to carry in a certain spot, everybody is going to go there.”

The problem compounds into more overdoses, which Goetz said is a concern for the overworking of B.C. Ambulance Services as well as fire departments.

“They are taxed more than they have ever been to answer these 3-5 overdose calls that we’re having every single day. That’s causing money from our taxpayers that should not be going to that, going to that. So we’re subsidizing the province on taking care of the situation.

The decriminalization project is a three-year undertaking, allowing those 18 years or older in B.C. to legally carry up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.

In terms of measuring the stats, numbers, successes and failures related to the decriminalization, Interior Medical Health Officer Dr. Carol Fenton took a provincial tour earlier this year with a goal to create a dashboard outlining the results so far.

Goetz said that they are yet to see that dashboard, and recently brought up the topic at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September, though the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions told the Herald that the dashboard was published on Sept. 14, 2023, and can be found here.

There were 174 overdose deaths in B.C. in August of this year, 190 in July. Goetz called the celebration of such a small decrease, while still being a very high number, is “pathetic.”

“We need her to come up with a better situation, or just scrap the whole thing. One of the two. Because it’s causing more issues for us than anything else. It’s a safety issue, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s not stopping any of the overdoses, it’s not helping people get better, it’s not doing anything.

“It’s bad paper, and it no longer should be pushed forward.”