Merritt Mayor Mike Goetz has some concerns over the province’s new exemption from Health Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which ensures individuals found with limited amounts of certain illegal drugs won’t face criminal charges for their possession.
Goetz told the Herald he believes the move to decriminalize certain illegal drugs in B.C. is the wrong one, and could put the public at risk by allowing the use of these substances in public places under most circumstances.
“Let’s talk needles, somebody decides to go up to McDonald’s to shoot up, and they throw their needle in the garbage can,” said Goetz.
“A lobby person or one of the kids working up there changes the garbage can, and they get stuck by a needle. That’s a concern for me. Is this really going to stem the tide of opioid deaths? I don’t think so.”
The exemption will apply to British Columbians 18 years of age and older, allowing them to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of cocaine, opioids, methamphetamine and MDMA within the province without criminal charge, a move which the province hopes will directly address and reduce the stigma around addiction.
Goetz called the decriminalization a “bad move all around,” citing that he believes the 2.5 gram carry limit will allow dealers to move illicit substances with ease. By decriminalizing the possession of these drugs, they remain illegal to sell and obtain, but the province said it will allow the healthcare system to support those struggling with addiction, rather than the justice system.
“By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services,” said Sheila Malcolmson, provincial minister of mental health and addictions. “Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one.”
After the effective date of January 31, 2023, those found with illicit substances for personal use will no longer have their drugs seized, or be arrested or charged. Instead, police will offer information on available addictions, healths, and social supports. Goetz said that this means RCMP will no longer respond to calls of people using illicit drugs in public places under most circumstances.
The Mayor said he urges those who are upset by the province’s new drug policy and its implications to reach out to their local elected officials on the provincial and federal levels. Goetz said he has had conversations with multiple ministers regarding his concerns, and plans to bring forth a discussion at the council table. The new exemption allows municipalities to limit which public spaces the decriminalized substances can be used in.
“We will have a look at that, see what our right is to make bylaws that don’t infringe on anybody’s rights, and what the Supreme Court will allow us to do,” added Goetz.
“They are leaving some of the control of it up to local governments, so you could pass a bylaw that says carrying is fine but you can’t use it in certain places. I understand you can’t use around schools, but this is a bad idea.”
Goetz said his son-in-law died due to an opioid overdose, and he is sympathetic to the situation of those who struggle with addiction. He believes that there is no way to help someone struggling with addiction until they want to accept the help. Goetz said he is supportive of a potential increase in social services and support for mental health and addictions, which he believes may help the issue of addictions and overdose in B.C.
For more information on the exemption and which drugs fall under it, visit www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/.