Bennett says she is planning a timely decision on BC’s plan to decriminalize drugs

BC’s plan will allow drug users to carry up to 4.5 grams of drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine without risking criminal charges or police seizure.

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OTTAWA – Canada’s Minister of Mental Health and Addiction said the federal government wants to make a quick decision on British Columbia’s request to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of illicit drugs.

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Carolyn Bennett spoke to the National Post on Thursday during a tour of the province, which has requested a waiver from the controlled drugs and substances in an attempt to combat a runaway overdose crisis.

The proposed exemption will allow drug users to carry up to 4.5 grams of drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine without risking being charged or seized.

There will still be charges for people selling or dealing in drugs, but keeping small quantities for personal use would no longer be a crime.

“We know that people expect a decision in time, and then that we can immediately follow up with that kind of applied research on the spot,” she said.

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Bennett did not specify exactly what the government will decide, but said she does not believe criminal sanctions help drug users. She gave no indication that the government was considering rejecting BC’s request.

“My father was a police officer before the war and he lived under a ban, and until the day he died at the age of 93, he was very convinced that the ban did not work,” she said.

My father was a police officer … and he lived through bans and was a big believer that bans did not work

Carolyn Bennet

“What I want to do is, firstly, not to hurt and to have the evidence and to make the decisions, but also to make sure that every decision we make is supported by applied research on the spot to ensure that what we do , works, ”said Bennett, who was a general practitioner before entering politics.

Bennett was in BC to meet with provincial officials, including her provincial colleague, Sheila Malcolmson, and Vancouver’s Mayor Kennedy Stewart. She also visited supervised injection facilities and talked to local groups.

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Overdose deaths due to illicit drugs have skyrocketed throughout BC during the pandemic. In the first nine months of this year, 1,534 people suffered fatal overdoses, setting BC on a course to eclipse last year’s 1,716 deaths.

The deaths involve almost all fentanyl. Bennett said she knows there is more to do, but she believes decriminalization will slow the death toll by ensuring drug users do not use alone.

“Decriminalization will never be a silver lining, it will be one of those things that hopefully reduces stigma for people to feel safe seeking help.”

Bennett said she also looks at safe supply programs where drug users are given pharmaceutical-grade drugs to ensure they do not use stained drugs.

The Liberals did not include any position on decriminalization in their platform, and when a resolution was passed calling for it at a party convention in 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the party would not go ahead with such a proposal.

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Leslie McBain, co-founder of the group Moms Stop the Harm, met with Bennett this week and said she hopes the minister will grant BC a dispensation.

McBain lost his son to an overdose of drugs in 2014, saying the exemption is a good first step toward keeping users alive.

“If we have an exception… we have taken a big step towards keeping people who use drugs safe.”

McBain said her biggest concern is that the BC government’s current proposal is not enough; she said the 4.5 gram exemption is too small for some heavy users.

“Some people who use drugs, they need some opioids, and they may need stimulants. They may be seasoned drug users, people who need larger amounts.”

BC police have been urged not to arrest people for simple possession of drugs over the past year, and prosecutors have also refused to prosecute such cases. Critics of BC’s moves have questioned why deaths would fall with a complete exception if they only continued to rise while police did not raise charges.

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But McBain said the policy has not been applied just across the province.

“The Downtown Eastside is not BCBC’s communities up and down the province. There are rural and remote communities, and there are indigenous and all kinds of communities where the police force, usually the RCMP, still arrest people for drug possession.”

Bennett said one of her concerns about the situation in BC is that the laws are being applied unequally.

“This was the issue of cannabis, as the law was applied unevenly across the country, with some centers being targeted and others not.”

McBain said the government needs to do more, including more treatment beds and a variety of approaches to help users.

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“They need to expand the spectrum of what recovery looks like, ask people what recovery looks like, and then start implementing what people need.”

The liberal platform proposed creating a new dedicated transfer from the federal government to the provinces for mental health.

Bennett said the government plans to work with provinces to determine what kind of services could cover, noting that it could include services like peer counseling and housing care facilities.

She said unlike other forms of medical treatment, mental health does not have to be just about hospitals.

“The Canada Health Act was about doctors and hospitals, mental health must be delivered in a bottom-up and interdisciplinary way,” she said.

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Conservative MP Mike Lake and the party’s critics of the case did not weigh in on the possible decriminalization, but said his party would secure large investments in treatment beds and overdose prevention kits.

“We believe that any person struggling with addiction should have the opportunity to recover, which is why Canada’s conservatives committed to historic investments in treatment beds, culturally appropriate addiction treatment and overdose sets,” he said in a statement.

“We know that mental health is health. A Conservative government will ensure that we help those who are struggling with addiction and save lives.”

NDP critic MP Gord Johns said liberals should move fast and follow science.

“It is hypocritical of the federal government to say that they have the backs of Canadians and that they follow the public health councils when it comes to the pandemic, while ignoring the same experts when they call for decriminalization and a regulated safe supply of illegals. substances. ”

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Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com

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