B.C. government promises changes to public drug use regulations

Nov 7, 2023

Earlier in September, members of the B.C. government discussed making changes to regulations regarding public drug use at the opening session of the 2023 Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. Following the implementation of illicit drug decriminalization in the province, city, and municipality representatives have requested the provincial government to grant them greater authority to limit drug use in public spaces.

On September 18, B.C. introduced a ban on illicit drug possession within 15 metres of playgrounds, spray pools, wading pools, and skate parks.

In addition, provincial officials stated that additional legislation is expected later this year to address some of the additional concerns raised around illicit drug use in public. 

When addressing members at the convention, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry defended the decriminalization pilot program.

“Any new innovation like this needs adjustments over time, and we’ve started to look at that,” she said. “The solution is not to go back to arresting people, particularly people who are visibly homeless. None of us want drug use around our children, but we need to look at these issues in ways we can support public safety, and public health.”  

In addition, provincial government members also discussed various mental health support systems and treatment plans which are being expanded across the province, and showed data demonstrating that the number of possession offences in B.C. decreased by 76% from February to July of 2023  compared to the previous four-year average. 

According to Campbell River chief administrative officer Elle Brovold, the number of people who said they felt very unsafe downtown increased from 7% in 2019 to 36% in 2023. “The No. 1 reason people cite is [the] result of public consumption of drugs. Whether or not there’s a fair correlation, that’s the perception out there,” she said. 

Earlier this year, Campbell River banned public drug use, while Kamloops city council voted in favour of a sweeping bylaw banning the consumption of illicit substances near parks and along sidewalks. Nelson also passed bylaws aimed at restricting the use of illicit drugs in public places, as other municipalities are discussing adopting similar measures.

“The challenges of [decriminalization] in little towns is really big,” said Smithers Mayor Gladys Atrill, noting that public drug use has increased in smaller communities, while they do not have the range of services available in bigger cities. “I’m genuinely supportive, but I don’t think we’ve been supported,” she added.