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Drug decriminalization debate continues in B.C.

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Debate over B.C.’s decriminalization of hard drugs lit up the legislature again Monday, after a court decision dealt a blow to the NDP's attempt to further restrict where illicit substances can be used.

BC United MLA Elenore Sturko led off question period by slamming the bill that would prohibit consumption in specific areas as too little, too late.

“After utterly failing to put in any safeguards, the NDP scrambled to address the fallout with Bill 34. Yet four months later, the bill is in limbo and communities are feeling increasingly unsafe,” said Sturko.

Last Friday, B.C.’s Court of Appeal upheld an injunction against Bill 34, thereby continuing the pause on the province's efforts to prevent people from using drugs in several additional locations including parks, sports fields, bus stops, beaches, and outside businesses and homes.

The result of the ruling is that drug users can still consume drugs in those locations — at least for now.

Premier David Eby addressed the situation on Monday at an unrelated press conference.

“We regulate alcohol, we regulate tobacco, surely we can put rules in place in relation to hard drugs,” he said. “It feels very common sense to me. We'll be making that argument in court, to the judge as quickly as we can.”

The injunction is set to expire at the end of March, though harm reduction advocates are hoping to get it extended. Ultimately, they say they plan to bring a constitutional challenge to the bill arguing it would further endanger lives amid the deadly toxic drug crisis.

“The result is going to be to drive drug use further underground, to lead people to use drugs in isolation," said Caitlan Shane, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, who successfully argued for the injunction on behalf of the Harm Reduction Nurses Association.

The federal exemption that decriminalized possession of drugs for personal use in B.C. does not apply to areas such as playgrounds, skate parks, splash parks or schools – meaning it remains illegal to consume drugs in those locations.

“The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act still applies,” Eby said Monday.

Some of those areas were added in September, months after the province started its decriminalization pilot in January 2023.

Facing public pressure, the province hoped to expand the list of public locations where drug use is prohibited through Bill 34, which explicitly includes parks.

The constitutional challenge at the heart of this matter isn’t expected until the summer, so it's likely it will be several more months before this mess is untangled.

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