Calls for more action and concerns about service gaps – Okanagan reacts to drug decriminalization

Global Okanagan – January 30, 2023 –

On the eve of drug decriminalization in B.C., there was a range of reactions in the Okanagan to the historic policy change.

Community Advocate Dawn Tucker is plugged into the local conversation in Vernon.

They see the benefits and challenges of decriminalization.

“I definitely see it helping because I don’t think an illness should be criminalized,” Tucker said.

Tucker points out there are still gaps in the services available locally to support decriminalization.

“Obviously, people are doing it in public, which is a concern, and they need safe places to go, and our overdose prevention site is only open limited hours. (I’d) love to see that open longer hours and I’d love to see a safe drug supply so we can have people be able to do it safely,” Tucker said.

Provincial officials say they know decriminalization won’t be a silver bullet and increasing services is a priority.

“Through historic investments, we are continuing to build a system of mental health and addiction care that works for all British Columbians. That system includes prevention and early intervention, enhancements across the full spectrum of treatment and recovery as well as expanding harm reduction measures,” said BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside.

Tucker also has concerns that decriminalization will put more pressure on municipalities to handle public drug use.

“Unfortunately, with decriminalization doing even small amounts in open spaces means that now RCMP, to my understanding, don’t have a lot of power. (That) means it downloads it onto the municipality and local taxpayers to now look at doing bylaws and having bylaw enforcement to try to control parks and other open public spaces. We don’t allow (public use) for alcohol and other controlled substances,” Tucker said.

The City of Kelowna said its current bylaws already prohibit using drugs in parks and public spaces, as well as having drug paraphernalia or smoking in parks.

“Bylaw Services, in concert with RCMP, will be closely monitoring the situation,” a City of Kelowna spokesperson said in a statement.

“Should the need arise for bylaw amendments, these will be promptly considered.”

The City of Vernon did not answer questions about whether it plans to create any additional bylaws about where newly decriminalized drugs can be used and declined to comment on the issue of decriminalization generally.