By DAVID JOHNSON
SO, AS OF JAN. 31, B.C. residents can possess specific amounts of certain controlled drugs. Let’s be absolutely clear — this exemption is not legalization.
These substances remain illegal and yes, there is a difference between decriminalisation and legalisation.
B.C. is the first province in Canada to receive an exemption from Health Canada under subsection 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The sole intention here … is to save lives. But rather than the actual headline grabber of users carrying baggies around, let’s focus on part two of the plan … treatment.
The B.C. government has also announced that it is transforming mental health and substance use services in the province as outlined in ‘A Pathway to Hope’, the Province’s mental health and addictions roadmap.
To do so, the Province is doubling the number of youth treatment and recovery beds, adding hundreds of adult treatment beds, increasing access to harm reduction supports like safe supply, and more.
Ok … that’s the press briefing.
Here’s the thing.
As a long-time subscriber to the idea that addictions are actually a health care issue, not a justice issue, I am obviously applauding the basic concept of doing something as drastic as this. No question.
There is discussion around the 2.5 grams not being the right amount, when a common purchased measurement (beyond pills) is an eighth of an ounce or 3.5 grams … and the very idea of police now carting around a set of scales to enforce the law is odd at best.
So ya, there seem to be holes and problems riddling this plan but it’s better than what we had … which was nothing.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that we have been through many, many decades of failed approaches to addiction services via the courts sending people to prison, to see that it simply didn’t work and in fact was and is, a disaster.
Let’s take a good look at the treatment part.
Tucked below the headline grabber of this news, is the bit about the Province doubling the number of youth treatment and recovery beds, and hundreds more adult treatment beds. ‘Hundreds more’ is the quote worth repeating.
This concept is the key to the addiction crisis. Many people have decided to finally end their addiction and seek treatment, just to be turned away due to a shortage of space. Most of these people are only left with the option of returning to the drugs and some have died as a consequence.
People are dying because they can’t get the help they ask for.
Decriminalizing possession means absolutely nothing if not backed up with a massive, massive investment in immediate treatment options for those who are ready for it.
B.C. needs many hundreds more beds for detox and rehab, and quickly, as well as the staff and system to make the beds work … and that costs a lot of money.
Spending money is how Portugal succeeded in literally almost irradicating illicit drug addiction in their country. In addition to legalizing all drugs to remove users from the court system, they dropped a financial fortune into building treatment beds, building entire rehab and transitional communities and an entire support system to work in them. And for the most part, it worked. They went from having one of the highest opioid addictions stats in the world, to one of the lowest.
The Portuguese system won’t work in Canada as their health system is federal where here it is provincial, and that makes having the dollars to plan and execute a large plan like this very difficult in Canada if it isn’t a full federal government program, which it can’t be, as they don’t have health jurisdiction.
Basically, our health system isn’t set up for an addiction crisis.
Those with the money (the feds) can’t spend directly on it, as they aren’t responsible for it, and those that are responsible for it (the provinces), don’t have the money.
It is a ludicrous circle, where the issue is lobbed back and forth between the two levels of government like a badminton birdy.
At the end of the day, what Portugal and other countries’ experiences teach us, is that justice reform doubled with a very robust AND a heavily funded health care/ addiction services system … will work, and be part of the answer to removing the worst of what we see on the streets here every day.
They also teach us, that to make radical change, you have to initiate climacteric systemic change. There is no part way.
Sooo … what does our Provincial government need to do now?
Start by keeping us informed step by step of plans, schedules, funding and the process to open up all these treatment beds … as it happens. They may have big plans, but we know very little about them.
The recent B.C. Museum announcement mess showed us that this NDP government does a lot of work behind the scenes, then drops news on us all at once which sets off a firestorm of controversy.
That billion-dollar B.C. Museum deal has been worked on, studied and planned for six years full time. There were 27 full studies that tore apart the details and created a plan.
The dumb part is they didn’t tell anybody until announcement day.
If over those six years the government held a press junket every six months on the discussion and plans for this museum as the process rolled along, and kept it in the news, then we would have been ‘brought along for the ride’, the sticker shock would have not been nearly as bad.
But they didn’t, nothing … then boom … a billion dollars … for a museum.
Didn’t go over well.
They need to learn from this example of how not to announce expensive stuff, and instead keep us all informed about what they are doing, and how they are going to meet these lofty goals of ‘hundreds of beds’ to deal with this crisis.
This time, though … it’s not just a cozy place for archives. Those beds literally mean human lives saved.
David Johnson is a Kamloops resident, community volunteer and self described maven of all things Canadian.