• British Columbia no longer allows people to use hard drugs in public.
  • The new law reverses part of a three-year pilot program making it legal to possess and consume up to 2.5 grams of opiates, cocaine, meth and MDMA.
  • Decriminalizing drugs is part of a harm reduction ethos, which focuses on alleviating the symptoms of drug abuse, rather than the addiction itself.
  • Decriminalization schemes have failed in British Columbia, Portland, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

British Columbia made public consumption of illicit drugs illegal this week — less than two years into a harm reduction pilot program decriminalizing the possession and consumption of meth, opioids, cocaine and MDMA.

The Issue

In January 2023, British Columbia implemented laws decriminalizing illicit drug use. For a trial period of three years, citizens could legally possess and publicly use 2.5 grams or less of opiates (like fentanyl), meth, cocaine and MDMA (Ecstasy).

The province recriminalized public usage on Tuesday after people started using drugs in places like parks and public transit. Though people may still possess hard drugs, they must use them in a private residence or a safe usage site.

A Dose of Common Sense

Deputy Chief Fiona Wilson of the Vancouver Police Department testified to the problems of decriminalizing drug use in front of parliament.

While the vast majority of people who use drugs do not want to do so in a manner that negatively impacts others, there have been several high-profile instances of problematic drug use at public locations, including parks, beaches and around public transit.

Non-drug users’ quality of life decreased after British Columbia implemented the pilot program, according to Wilson.

If you have someone who is with their family at the beach and there’s a person next to them smoking crack cocaine, it’s not a police matter.

She concluded,

The implementation of decriminalization occurred before more extensive restrictions on public consumption and problematic substance use could be adopted … While working toward better health outcomes for people who use drugs, there must also be consideration of the needs and well-being of the broader public.

The Big Picture

British Columbia is the latest city to unsuccessfully decriminalize drugs in the name of harm reduction.

Harm reduction policies focus on alleviating the symptoms of drug abuse, like accidental overdoses and diseases spread with dirty needles, rather than helping people get sober.

Some harm reduction policies — like teaching police officers to administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone — can be helpful in conjunction with policies discouraging and treating drug addiction.

But most harm reduction advocates don’t view sobriety as the goal. Instead, they push for policies that reduce the physical danger and legal consequences of doing drugs.

Decriminalizing drugs to reduce the legal “harms” of addiction is no longer a fringe position. Similar policies have been adopted (and subsequently abandoned) in Portland, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) even explains that harm reduction “empowers [drug users] to reach their own goals.” If someone does not want to get sober, the harm reduction approach helps them continue using drugs “safely.”

Why This Matters

The harm reduction ethos is grounded in the idea that drug abuse only harms the person consuming them. But hard-core drugs are illegal precisely because the harms of drug addiction inevitably spill over into communities.

Drug addiction wrecks people. It compromises their ability to sustain relationships with family and friends, pursue education and maintain a job — or even find shelter. It prevents them to contributing to society and condemns people to a life of danger and dependency on the government. At its worst, it end in Death

Communities suffer physical, social and emotional damage when community members can’t take care of themselves — as demonstrated in British Columbia, Portland, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

It is neither compassionate nor practical to allow people to indulge their addiction to hard drugs. The Daily Citizen hopes British Columbia’s step back from harm reduction will encourage more communities in Canada and North America to do the same.

Additional Articles and Resources

Harm Reduction Makes Incursion into Massachusetts Hospitals

Massachusetts Hospital Network Loosens Reporting Requirements for Prenatal Drug Abuse

Philadelphia Legislators Tackle Drug Crisis, Face Opposition from Harm Reduction Groups

Bipartisan Vote Balances Compassion and Law-and-Order in San Francisco

Oregon Lawmakers Vote to Recriminalize Hard Drugs

Citizens Turn Against Lax Drug Laws as Consequences of Drug Addiction Overwhelm Communities

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Governments Can’t Cure Homelessness—Christians are the Solution (Part 2)