Skip to content

‘Decriminalization changes cause more chaos’: Kelowna MLA Merrifield

Illicit drug use to be illegal in all public spaces, including inside hospitals, transit, parks
BC United Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield in the B.C. Legislature during Question Period on April 11, 2023. (Legislature video)

The B.C. government’s overhaul of decriminalization is a band-aid solution and the pilot has done more harm than good.

Those were Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield’s comments after the NDP announced Friday (Apr. 26) that it would make illicit drug use illegal in all public spaces, including inside hospitals, on transit, and in parks.

“I don’t want to be too harsh but this is classic NDP, David Eby political damage control,” Merrifield said. “He’s created chaos with this disastrous policy and now he’s trying to mask the obvious conclusion which is to scrap the entire failed experiment.”

Premier Eby said the changes are part of new measures “to make sure police have the tools they need to ensure safe communities as treatment options are expanded to keep people alive longer.”

READ MORE: B.C. to ban drug use in public spaces, including inside hospitals

The measures would not recriminalize possession in private residences, where someone is legally sheltering, at overdose prevention sites or drug-checking locations.

Merrifield said the changes have created more chaos, such as evidenced by the release of a July 2023 document from Northern Health providing guidance to staff following what it calls an “increase in admissions of patients with possession of substances and using substances while in hospital.”

“What are the rules? The reality is this whole thing needs to go, not tweaks around the edges.”

BC United has pressured the NDP to end decriminalization.

“But not without replacing it,” Merrifield added. “It’s about desperately needed treatment beds and giving people who are drug addicted or street-entrenched hope rather than a lifetime of regulated drug use.”

Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas, and other Okanagan mayors, urged the NDP not to allow public drug use near areas where families and children gather.

“Today’s announcement was encouraging news,” Dyas said. “The City of Kelowna has been a leading advocate, and I have taken a strong position to have parks, playgrounds, splash pads, business entrances, and public transit exempt as part of the province’s illicit drug decriminalization pilot project.”

The mayor added he was grateful to the province for giving the RCMP the tools and authority to ensure public safety.

Under decriminalization, police are prohibited from arresting, charging, or seizing adults in possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, crack, crystal meth, MDMA, or fentanyl.

The changes require federal approval and the province has already had discussions with the federal government.

with files from Lauren Collin, Wolf Depner

READ MORE: ‘We’re fighting for Jim’: Namesake, resident of evacuated Kelowna apartment dies

Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
Read more