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Province back-tracks on public drug use, appealing to feds for assistance

The province is finally moving to ban illicit drug use in all public places, including hospitals, transit, and parks.

Premier David Eby announced the changes today in a press conference.

“The goal is that police have the authority and that everybody in the community knows it, so they don’t have to use it,” he said. “A police officer says, ‘no, I’m sorry, this isn’t the place where drugs are used, you need to go somewhere else,’ the person listens and follows that direction. Hopefully and ideally to a site where there are medical professionals, connections to care, and potentially if that person’s in that space and ready, connections to addictions treatment.”

BC is now working with the federal government to give police back the power to prevent drug use in all public places. Possession of small amounts remains legal, and police will only arrest for possession in exceptional circumstances.

Eby said the province is working with Health Canada to change the terms of its decriminalization pilot program in BC, which is about halfway through its three-year duration. The province is asking the federal government to again make the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act apply to public drug use throughout the province, effectively prohibiting it. People will still be able to use in their private residences or lawful overnight shelters.

The province tried last year to modify provincial legislation to prohibit drug use in some public spaces, but immediately ran into legal challenges. Eby said the Attorney-General told him there was no end in sight to that case, so the province is now working directly with the federal government to use federal laws. He said he has the prime minister’s assurances that the federal government will work collaboratively with BC.

The move comes after recent incidents suggested public drug use and related disorder is escalating, including a news story from Campbell River involving teens overdosing in a local restaurant, and a viral video from the Lower Mainland showing people smoking fentanyl at their restaurant table.

As well, staff in several BC hospitals including Campbell River reported patients were smoking fentanyl and other street drugs in their hospital rooms, causing health concerns for nurses and other patients.

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