From recovering former addicts to ex-law enforcement, many claim the British Columbia government has it wrong on decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs.
Giuseppe Ganci, a recovering former cocaine and ecstasy user now helping to treat drug addicts, said the province's move to temporarily decriminalize possession of up to 2.5 grams of heroin, crack, cocaine, fentanyl, MDMA, and meth would not save lives.
Though the province believes the move will reduce the "shame" and "stigma" for people accessing help with substance abuse, Ganci, who works with recovering teenage users at Last Door Recovery in New Westminster, BC, said it's "bizarre" to suggest stigmatization prevents addicts from getting treatment.
According to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the move is a "critical step" to "save lives as we continue to tackle the toxic drug crisis in BC."
"Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving support," reads a January 30 government release.
Ganci told The Epoch Times that that's "just not true."
"I've never met a person who uses drugs, including myself, that didn't get help because they felt 'stigmatized,'" said Ganci.
He claimed addicts use drugs and don't get treatment because they "like" drugs and "don't want to stop using."
Ganci also spoke to his personal experience as a former user, stating he used alcohol and marijuana at 13 and, by 16, became addicted to hard drugs.
The front-line worker said he could have died at any time, having spent over 20 years in and out of recovery and relapse cycles.
He said it took severe, negative consequences from his addiction to convince him to seek help through a residential treatment program.
"I was going to lose my job. I got caught [using] at work," added Ganci, who accessed an occupational health service through work that offered a one-year drug rehab program.
"Decriminalization does not stop overdoses — dissuasion does, prevention does."
Alberta's Mental Health and Addiction spokesperson, Colin Aitchison, told Rebel News, "you cannot simply take away penalties for unlawful behaviour and expect things to get better."
However, he clarified that the UCP government "does not believe in criminalizing a healthcare issue."
Aitchison conveyed that the province is building a recovery-oriented addiction and mental health care system that takes a "fair, firm and compassionate approach to keep communities safe while treating addiction and mental health as healthcare issues."
In a statement to the publication, he referenced Alberta's work to establish more than 9,000 new publicly funded addiction treatment spaces and eliminate user fees for residential addiction treatment to ensure all Albertans can access these life-saving services.
Aitchison said they also launched the Digital Overdose Response System (DORS), which offers same-day treatment with the award-winning Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP).
The province will also equip police to assess better the needs of a person experiencing a mental health emergency through HealthIM.
Curtis Robinson, a 27-year officer with the Vancouver Police Department who retired as a sergeant, also believes decriminalization is not the right approach to encourage users to receive life-saving treatment.
"This is a failure of the government to figure out what works," he told The Epoch Times.
Health Canada granted BC a subsection 56(1) exemption for three years under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who use drugs.
"All of a sudden, the province says, we're going to do these people a tremendous favour because of stigmatism. Yet, police have generally not arrested drug addicts with small amounts of drugs since 1995."
Robinson said it's "nonsense" that the province affords "some degree of dignity" to users by decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs.
He claimed that stigma is immaterial to drug addicts.
"No drug addict in the world worries about what people think. They focus on getting high and staving off the horrible withdrawal symptoms of being addicted to drugs."
"Drug addicts concentrate on one single thing every day — drugs. And if you're a coke addict, it's every 45 minutes."
The Epoch Times asked the BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions what evidence the province used to conclude de-stigmatization would tackle its toxic drug crisis.
"[Decriminalization] will break down the barriers that prevent people from reaching out for help and create new pathways to life-saving services," replied the ministry.
They noted, "different forms of decriminalization have been implemented in many other jurisdictions, including Portugal, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Oregon."
According to the province's submission to Health Canada in October 2021, "illicit drug poisoning is now the leading cause of death amongst British Columbians aged 19 to 39."
"Criminalization drives people to hide their drug use and is often used alone. Given the increasingly toxic drug supply — using alone can be fatal," said the ministry.
"Drug use is a public health matter — not a criminal justice."
In 2022, the BC Coroners Service recorded 2,272 deaths in the province due to toxic, illegal drugs, up from 272 fatal drug overdoses in 2001.
According to Robinson, BC's continued focus on harm reduction versus treatment will be an "open season" for crime in Vancouver.
He predicts such policies will cause "a spike in property crime, stranger assaults, shoplifting, break and enters, theft from auto, etc."
"You can have over five half-gram decks of drugs in your possession, and nothing's going to happen — except an increase in the healthcare system, income assistance, housing crisis, property crime issues, and police calls for service," said Robinson.
"This is a system that guarantees failure. Nobody will successfully survive, get treatment, and recover under this model. … The drug addict is still using the same poisonous, dirty fentanyl."