Just over seven months after drug possession for personal use was decriminalized in B.C., the province is now bringing in regulations around having substances in and around playgrounds.
Drug possession up to 2.5 grams was decriminalized in B.C. on Jan. 31, 2023, as part of a pilot program in an effort to reduce drug poisoning deaths.
Since then, many have been calling on the provincial government to implement restrictions around use in playgrounds and parks, and now the B.C. government has responded.
Starting on Sept. 18, possession of drugs will be banned within 15 metres of any play structure in a playground, a spray or wading pool, or a skate park. Additionally, the government has requested that Health Canada amend the decriminalization policy to add these spaces to the existing exclusions around K-12 schools and licenced child care facilities.
Canada’s Minister of Health granted the exemption shortly after the province requested it.
“Our government is committed to breaking down barriers and connecting people to the supports they need,” said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “We requested this amendment from Health Canada to ensure that families feel safe in their community while continuing to use every tool available to fight the toxic-drug crisis and save lives.”
In a release, Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto noted that the toxic drug crisis is a complex issue to respond to.
“Decriminalization is one part of a complex response to the toxic-drug crisis,” Alto said. “As the longer-term effects of decriminalization are assessed, and more addictions and mental-health services are established, it’s important to consider and take steps that specifically protect children. Prohibiting possession of illegal substances at child-focused areas is one such step.”
This move comes days after BC United announced its plans to end the decriminalization program if it were elected to government.
BC Premier David Eby said that the province intends to introduce legislation that will go further.
“We are working on and will be introducing a bill in the legislature that clarifies, expands, and adds some areas that are not included in the Health Canada decision that was released today,” Eby said in Vancouver.
This change comes just under three weeks after the BC Coroner’s office announced that for 13 months in a row, more than 190 people per month have died due to the toxic drug crisis.
B.C.’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, has continued to call on government to do more to address the toxic drug supply that is leading to hundreds of people each month dying.
“I am saddened to once again report that British Columbia’s toxic drug crisis shows no signs of abating,” said Lapointe in a news release on Aug. 29.
“We are continuing to experience record numbers of deaths provincewide because of the toxic drug supply. The unregulated illicit market is highly unpredictable and continues to put thousands of lives at risk each month. Despite recommendations for the urgent expansion of a safer drug supply, very few have access to a stable, lower-risk alternative.”
In July, Campbell River passed a bylaw that prohibits the consumption of drugs in city-owned public places.
It’s only been just over a month, but it’s had little impact so far according to city councillor Ben Lanyon.
“Pretty much a four or five block radius around there, you could walk for a few minutes, and see open drug use, or the effects of public intoxication.” Lanyon says 2023 is on track for a record number of overdoses in the city. But the community is lacking both treatment centres, and transition houses. He says Campbell River is on track for a record number of overdoses in 2023.
“I don’t think there is a more important problem in society right now,” Lanyon said.
Police officers will have to take on the role of enforcing the new drug use rules.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said they support the ban.
“I’m actually quite pleased to see that Health Canada sees that public consumption is a concern. And we need to be doing everything that we can to make sure that we are safeguarding youth, and children when it comes to drug consumption,” Manak said.
More than 12-thousand people in B.C. have died from using toxic drugs since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.