The province is planning on rolling out new legislation to tackle concerns surrounding decriminalization of certain illicit drugs.
During Tuesday’s city council meeting in Nelson, Interior Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Sue Pollock, made a presentation highlighting the provincial goals of decriminalization and gave recommendations to help local governments regulate public consumption.
She said the BC government will be meeting in the fall to discuss its emergency management legislation and develop regulations to help support local governments regulate public consumption.
Many municipalities across the province have adopted local bylaws prohibiting the use of drugs in parks and other areas frequented by children. Nelson recently joined the list after council voted in favor of the third reading of its public nuisance bylaw following Pollock’s presentation.
The majority of council felt implementing the bylaw ensures all members of the community have appropriate safety measures.
Pollock said that although it’s up to local governments to decide whether they want to implement their own bylaws surrounding public use, she recommends they wait until the legislation rolls out in the fall as she feels it will solve some of the issues that have arisen in communities across the province while also still working alongside the goal of decriminalization, which is to reduce stigma and provide people with proper resources to recover from mental health and addiction disorders.
“Some of the concerns that we bring forward related to restricting public consumption is that by having bylaws in place, the problem of toxic drug use in public spaces will be driven underground,” she said.
“We worry that even those who are using in their own homes fear that they can’t actually come out and seek help or go to their doctor or talk to their mom and peers because of that sort of perpetuated stigma and shame around drug use.”
She also said punitive measures often associated with bylaw violators may add to the fear drug users have of being stigmatized which could prevent them from reaching out to get help and support.
“The goal of decrim is so people feel like they can articulate what their experience is and what their relationship is with the substances they use. If they feel like they need some support in changing that relationship, that nothing holds them back, not fear of criminal penalties, not fear of losing their job or being judged by their parents or their loved ones.”
Pollock said balancing public health and public safety is important, but Interior Health has been consulted on the new legislation and they’ve brought forward their findings after consultation with the public, local governments and authorities to ensure all needs of communities are met.
“The provincial government is currently undertaking a thorough engagement process and policy work to support proposed new legislation which would bring a consistent approach to regulating public substance use,” she said. “To balance the complementary goals of all of the different people and members of society, but also for public health and public safety.”
Karen Leman, interim director of mental health and substance abuse with the provincial government, accompanied Pollock during her presentation to council. Leman said they are encouraging local governments to continue to collaborate with their local health authority to ensure proper mental health and addiction services are available to educate and direct drug users to locations to use safely.
When asked if Interior Health was able to provide a timeline for a solution that would promote harm reduction and rehabilitative services in rural, remote areas, Leman could not answer, but assured council a solution is underway and will be discussed when the province meets in the fall.
“I do understand that there are conversations in Nelson for Interior Health in terms of moving forward and addressing some appropriate long term and short-term goals around inhalation and injection sites,” she said.
“We don’t know where we’re going yet, but what we do know is that that includes city council, the staff and community members. We don’t have a script or a prewritten template about what that’s going to look like here, but it’s an extreme priority for them to bring forward legislation as soon as they sit in the fall.”