B.C.’s drug decriminalization experiment is off to disastrous start
For months, Mike Stolte has watched the rapid deterioration of his neighbourhood in historic downtown Nelson, B.C., a decline precipitated by activities at a nearby provincial health facility that has become a hangout for drug users.
Every day, a group of up to 20 young people gathers at the Nelson Friendship Outreach Clubhouse, where mental health and addiction programs are available. But outside, people have been selling and using drugs.
When neighbours complained to the police, officers said their hands were effectively tied because of the province’s experiment with decriminalization. As of January, people are now allowed to carry small amounts of drugs and use them publicly in B.C. But Nelson residents are now stepping around needles and stepping over those who have passed out on city sidewalks.
“I’m a pretty liberal person who has been involved in compassionate programs for hospices and other entities,” Mr. Stolte told me. “So, I feel for anyone battling addictions. I was initially a fan of decriminalization but I think the longer we continue with this experiment, the more and more downtowns are going to cease to exist. Nobody will want to go near them.”
After experiencing four thefts at his home near the Clubhouse in the last two months – after not having any in the previous nine years that he’s lived in Nelson – Mr. Stolte told me he now keeps a baseball bat and bear spray at his front door. His neighbours have complained about drug users defecating in their yards. The police have been called hundreds of times in response to complaints.
This is now a common lament across B.C. Open drug use is plaguing many cities and towns. In Nelson, the provincial health department had been planning to turn the Clubhouse into a safe inhalation centre for drug users, but that initiative is on hold because of complaints from those living in the area. There has been talk of hiring a security firm to try and disperse people from hanging around the Clubhouse.
It’s been a nightmare for the quaint little city that was the setting for the 1986 Steve Martin film Roxanne.
A number of B.C. municipalities are now proposing bylaws to restrict public drug use, which has proliferated under decriminalization after it went into effect in January. The trial is scheduled to last for three years. But proposed laws that would restrict where drug use can take place are alarming health experts who believe this will force users into darker corners of society, where they can’t be saved if they overdose.
Edited by Victoria Watcher, 07 June 2023 - 05:07 PM.