Penticton won’t be lending its support to the City of Vancouver’s bid to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs.
Coun. Julius Bloomfield put forward the idea in a motion at Tuesday’s meeting, but it was rejected by a 4-3 vote. The other supporters were councillors James Miller and Judy Sentes.
The motion came just a few hours after a presentation from Interior Health officials, who warned about the near-universal presence of fentanyl – a powerful synthetic opioid – in street drugs, which claimed the lives of at least 10 people in Penticton through the first five months of 2021 alone.
“The opioid crisis is something that we’re going to have to take some different actions on,” said Bloomfield.
“Doing the same thing that we’ve been doing in the past is just going to lead to frustration and failure. I support what the City of Vancouver is trying to do and I ask that we send a letter showing our support for their attempts.”
Vancouver in May submitted an application to Health Canada asking for an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would make it legal to possess specified amounts of drugs within city limits.
The suggested limits are two grams of opioids, three grams of cocaine, one gram of crack cocaine and 1.5 grams of amphetamine.
Included in Vancouver’s submission is data showing the city’s police department has virtually stopped arresting people for drug possession already; the VPD recommended just 16 charges of simple possession in 2019.
“It’s a move to take the addict out of… the judicial system and put them into the health system,” said Bloomfield.
But a majority of Bloomfield’s council mates don’t support that approach.
“I don’t believe people should be using drugs and I don’t think we should make it easier for them to use drugs,” said Mayor John Vassilaki.
“I don’t want to touch this with a 1,000-yard pole.”
Other communities that have offered support for the so-called Vancouver Model include Lake Country, Kamloops, Victoria, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Saanich and Nanaimo.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran was asked to sign a statement in support of decriminalization, but did not do so because he had not have the opportunity to discuss the matter with city council.
“Anything I would sign like that I would want to get council approval to go ahead and do,” Basran said last month.
Basran said he was generally in favour of decriminalization.
“I’m supportive, but with the caveat that there needs to be better supports in place,” he said.