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  • Writer's pictureWayne Drury

Will Decriminalization in BC Work?

British Columbia Canada has implemented decriminalization of drugs to attempt to improve access to services with the goal of saving lives. This is an article about "hopefully" the government getting it right.

First, before the attack dogs come out, and before I get labelled as part of a “fringe minority" with" unacceptable views" (Trudeau, 2022), promoting Nazi symbolism” (ibid), I support the government in implementing the decriminalization of drugs in British Columbia. This article contains, however, questions about the impacts I see coming and the government’s readiness to address them.

There is no question in my view, in Vancouver and elsewhere in BC, things concerning social housing and accessing lifesaving supports and services are about to change due to the decriminalization of drugs.

I am not opposed to increasing the services; I am questioning the government just adding to our debt to pay for their Plan. At some point, hard decisions must be made about where to cut back and what to drop to add new or increased programming in other areas. The federal government has just thrown money out the door, possibly with good intentions, but with no plan to pay it back. We now have a combined interest annual debt in Canada totalling almost $69 billion – and that is just interest. If governments do not address this issue, we will be in severe financial trouble in Canada if we are not already.

Put this into the perspective of your home life. With inflation, you cannot pay for your mortgage. Do you go out and borrow more money with no plan to be able to pay it back? Do you take that holiday, or do you cut back? These are stressful and sometimes life-changing decisions, but the government keeps adding to our debt without considering the consequences.

Did you know that $69 billion of annual interest payments could pay for about 15,000 new hospital beds per year and all the staff required? That is per year, and we would still have money left over to do other great things, like becoming the attack dogs for homelessness and drug treatments.

The problem we all face is our demand for increased services, with no discussion about the consequential impacts. Politicians do not want to tell us, “No can do.” Their job is to make us all happy. We have accepted that but now face the consequences of “our” decisions.

We do not have money to pay for increased healthcare, improved education, homelessness, $10 per day, daycare, etc. What happens? Governments tinker around the edges – Trudeau suggests increasing healthcare spending by about $4 Billion, a 1.2% drop in the bucket. One hospital costs about $3 billion. What is $4 billion going to do for us?

So, where will the money come from to pay for increased support and services that will be required because of decriminalization? I have no idea. I am concerned that the provincial government will tinker around the edges and reading their Plan does not comfort me.

The suggestion is that “diverting persons who use drugs (PWUD) away from the criminal justice system and toward health services and pathways of care (will) improve those individuals' health and safety outcomes.”[1] That may be true, but on the other hand, the Ministry of Health Plan discusses health system readiness, stating that “the provincial health system is being strengthened; it does not indicate the current capacity/availability of treatment or rehabilitation programs across the province (or how it will be strengthened). The BC Association of Police Chiefs believes that pathways to care for PWUD need to be established well in advance of drug decriminalization so there is no delay between wanting and receiving treatment” [2]

This statement bears needing repeating. “The BCACP believes that pathways to care for PWUD need to be established well in advance of drug decriminalization so there is no delay between wanting and receiving treatment” [3] This should include a well-expressed commitment to funding, which there is none.

We need to know what, when, how much and where the money will come from.

This affliction of dangerous drugs is a terrible mark for all of us. My heart goes to all those affected and their families and loved ones. How can we tinker with a system that has killed almost 4,600 people in BC over the past two years?

It is not only me calling on the government to do this right; the BC Association of Police Chiefs and others are also desperate to have this right.

The government’s propaganda states, “There is no wrong time or place to ask for help, and there are even services designed to help you find what you are looking for.” – an interesting play on words. They say, “services designed to help you find what you are looking for.” They do not say the services are available – a huge difference.

I hope we all have the fortitude to ensure the government gets it right.

[1] BC Association of Police Chiefs (December 2021). Drug Decriminalization. [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid.

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