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B.C. advocates say more action needed as province set to embark on drug decriminalization pilot

By the end of January, B.C. will become the first province in Canada to begin a three-year pilot allowing people to possess small amount of illicit drugs for personal use.

As of Jan. 31, people aged 18 and older will be allowed to carry a combined 2.5 grams of opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamines and MDMA

The goal is to reduce the harms associated with illicit drugs, but Samatha Monckton says access to a safe supply of drugs is urgently needed amid an increasingly poisoned supply and unabated deaths.

"We need to go a little step further and take the supply people are using and make it safer for them because they're still putting a loaded gun to their head every day, despite the fact that they're not getting charged for it," said Monckton, the communications director of MySafe Society.

"Sure it's less court time, less lawyer fees, less charges on their record less time in and out of jail. But at the end of the day, if they still have addiction issues and they still want that supply, it should be a safe one," she added.

Between January and October of 2022, more than 1,800 people died due to illicit drug toxicity in B.C.

But addictions phycologist and SFU professor Julian Somers say the focus on initiatives such as decriminalization and safe supply is the wrong priority.

"There is every reason to believe this will only amplify harms," said Somers.

He believes mental health supports and housing should be the first step in targeting the drug poisoning epidemic.

"There's no reason to be optimistic that there is anything good that will happen. Other jurisdictions that have reported consequences of lessening legal penalties of drugs consistently report that rates of harms go up," he said.

Somers has researched the relationship between the legal status of drug use and the criminalization of marginalized drug users. He said he found it's better to help those people access housing and addiction treatment instead of drugs.

Somers and Monckton's differing opinions will be put to the test in just a matter of weeks when drug users won't face any penalties for carrying the small amounts of illicit drugs. Top Stories

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