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B.C. premier defends drug decriminalization amid calls to cancel pilot

The premier of B.C. stands firmly against calls by city councillors to end the province’s drug decriminalization pilot.

In 2023, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in Canada to decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 grams of hard drugs including cocaine, heroin, meth, and ecstasy.

The move was part of a pilot project to reduce barriers preventing people from accessing life-saving services, including safer supply programs, and keeping people in possession of drugs out of the criminal justice system.

On Monday, councillors Daniel Fontaine from New Westminster, Linda Annis from Surrey, and Alexa Loo in Richmond issued a joint statement calling for their respective cities to stop endorsing the pilot, and encourage the province to put more resources into treatment and rehabilitation.

Their call follows Oregon’s recent decision to repeal decriminalization in the U.S. state and offer people treatment options instead.

But in an interview with CityNews earlier this week, Eby said the pilot’s goal is to keep people alive.

“We give people the opportunity to get into treatment by saying, ‘You’re not a criminal, I’m not going to arrest you and put you in jail for having the drugs you’re addicted to,'” he said.

“You get them tested, you come in and talk to a nurse or a doctor.”

He says the aim is to get a doctor in between the “predatory drug dealer” and the person struggling with addiction.

Eby says people who are buying drugs online or on the streets are taking a chance on their lives every time.

“There is no way to provide 100 per cent protection that people are making those decisions, except to say, please don’t,” he said.

“There are places where you can get drugs tested in British Columbia.”

Eby says the number of deaths and serious injuries from the toxic drug crisis is one of the most dominant concerns that residents in B.C. share.

“We got thousands of people dead, we got family and friends grieving the loss of these brothers and sisters,” he said.

“We need to drive those numbers down.”

He adds public safety is also significant when it comes to managing toxic drugs.

“People deserve to have safe downtown parks, bus stops, and the doorways of businesses,” he said.

“(The solution is) having a compassionate lens on this issue, but understanding their basic expectations around conduct in our community that people have to meet regardless of health condition.”

Although in support of decriminalization, Eby says the distribution of drugs is not acceptable.

“I don’t believe the answer is that the government opens up distribution centres for these drugs,” he said.

“I just think that’s not right.”

-With files from Hana Mae Nassar, David Nadalini and Charlie Carey.

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