Maple Ridge councillor calls for drug ban in public spaces

Maple Ridge could be the latest to push back against the B.C. government’s decision to decriminalize the use of hard drugs.

Councillors are being asked to consider a ban on drug use in public spaces, including parks, similar to what civic politicians in Kamloops and Sicamous have done.

Coun. Ahmed Yousef’s motion is asking for the “prohibition of illicit drug use,” citing considerations around what effect “rampant open drug use” in public spaces could have on families and children.

“I strongly believe that hypodermic needles and glass pipes do not belong at parks or playgrounds, and as guardians and stewards of future generations, it’s incumbent upon us to look after their safety, and also to understand and realize the future and the legacy that we would be leaving behind,” he said in council last month.

“Considering my own children, as well as the families and the young families and youths that we have in our community, being impressionable, I believe that normalizing certain behaviours will only make them more acceptable to them and exposure is not a good thing in this case.”

On Jan. 1, 2023, B.C. became the first province in Canada to decriminalize small amounts of certain drugs. As part of the three-year pilot program, people over the age of 18 will not be arrested or charged, and their drugs won’t be seized if they’re found in possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances.

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It’s being made possible after Health Canada approved B.C.’s request to be granted an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The province has cited decriminalization as one tool in addressing the ongoing toxic drug crisis, which has claimed the lives of thousands of British Columbians since 2016.

The exemption for decriminalization does not apply to people while on K-12 school premises, on premises of licensed childcare facilities, at airports, or on Coast Guard vessels and aircraft. Canadian Armed Forces members are also subject to the Code of Service Discipline related to drug possession.

The B.C. government has also said some private properties will continue to ban illicit substances, and as such, “police retain legal authority to remove people from these premises under the authority of the Trespass Act if open drug use is occurring against the wishes of the owner.”

Meanwhile, in Kamloops, Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Jonathan Malo told Castanet last month that while the authority understands concerns around public drug use, “from a public health perspective, decriminalization supports the view that substance use is a health issue, not a criminal one.”

The next Maple Ridge council meeting is set for May 9.

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