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Local reaction to B.C.'s new illegal drug exemption initiative

A new health initiative on the west coast is turning heads across the country, including Simcoe County.

Starting today, substance users in British Columbia caught with small amounts of certain drugs won't face arrest or fines.

While some appreciate B.C.'s effort toward decriminalization, some local advocates are skeptical about it.

"I think it's a recipe for disaster myself," says CTV News Public Safety Analyst Chris Lewis.

This week B.C. began a three-year exemption from Health Canada that allows residents over 18 to carry up to 2.5 grams of opioids.

"A big reason that this pilot project came into place was because we're acknowledging that people who use drugs aren't necessarily criminals. People who use drugs are struggling with trauma. They're using for a whole bunch of reasons," says Gilbert Centre for Social & Support Services Harm Reduction Program Manager Sarah Tilley.

However, due to trafficking charges that come with being caught with more than 2.5 grams of these substances, experts are concerned that this helps people partying on weekends more than vulnerable dependents who carry the largest volume.

"It's going to likely increase the harm of that criminalization towards people who are not trafficking but who are trying to survive," says Tilley.

Some suggest this experiment will declutter the court system, but others fear it gives police less incentive to engage with small-time offenders.

"For sure, it's a drain on police officers to deal with that, but there's also a bonus in there that some of the people that they deal with ultimately are looking to make a deal," says Lewis.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says they will be watching optimistically based on other examples, yet some fear the cons will outweigh the pros.

"There still needs to be some level of enforcement. There still needs to be some fear in getting caught by people that have amounts of drugs that could be fatal, particularly in this fentanyl world," says Lewis.

Organizations like the Gilbert Centre say the best solution comes from listening to the right people.

"We need to listen to the people who are being harmed, and we need to prioritize what they tell us they need and not some idea we think might work for them," says Tilley.

Tilley also believes this will disproportionately impact people of colour and indigenous people who have a higher rate of charge and conviction for drug-related offences in Canada. Top Stories

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