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British Columbia’s NDP premier, David Eby, is facing criticism for going all in on his government’s controversial drug decriminalization agenda as criticisms mount.

Eby’s defence of his policy comes as federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks plans to visit to B.C. to discuss growing concerns and controversies surrounding the three-year pilot program, which decriminalized simple possession of up to 2.5 grams of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, or MDMA.

“It’s an incredibly challenging issue. We’re trying to keep people alive, get them intro treatment. We’ve opened hundreds of new treatment beds this year alone,” Eby said to CTV News this week.

“We have attempted to put in place a system that recognizes some of the impacts we’ve seen of the ongoing toxic drug crisis that we’re in, including public drug use by some individuals, and we’re not going to let it go.”

Saks’s office noted in a statement that her government “indicated from the outset that the B.C. exemption (to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) would be rigorously monitored and evaluated.” 

Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also took a swipe at Eby this week, calling his drug decriminalization policy “radical” and “dangerous.” He also criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for abetting it.

“They are the ones that brought in decriminalization. Eby asked for it, Trudeau granted it, and they both put your tax dollars into heroin-grade opioids that can kill people and get our children hooked on drugs,” Poilievre said.

Centre for Responsible Drug Policy director Adam Zivo says Eby is clinging to ideology over science.

“The fact that the premier is doubling down on drug decriminalization is concerning,” said Zivo. “It suggests that his approach to addiction policy is rooted in ideology, not evidence because, we must remember that there is no evidence that drug decriminalization has saved any lives at this point.” 

To the contrary, Zivo said B.C.’s drug decriminalization project has made things significantly worse.

“I have spoken with dozens of youth who have said that drug decriminalization makes them feel unsafe and seems to normalize drug use and, in a sense, even encourage drug use among their peers,” he said.

B.C. set a record of 2,511 suspected illicit drug deaths in 2023, despite the decriminalization pilot.

Zivo believes “there is no justification for perpetuating a policy that has endangered so many people across the province, including health care workers, who now have to worry about walking through plumes of meth and fentanyl while simply doing their jobs.”

These concerns were echoed by Saks’ office, which said in a statement that “Health care workers have a right to a safe workplace,” noting that B.C. has committed to addressing implementation issues in such settings.

Zivo believes it’s time to scrap the decriminalization experiment altogether.

“I think that British Columbia, in partnership with the federal government, should end decriminalization as soon as possible and pivot towards investing into treatment capacity.”

B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad also criticized the Eby government’s approach to drugs in a statement to True North, calling his continued commitment to decriminalization “insanity.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” said Rustad. “David Eby doubling down on drug decriminalization is insanity.”

Rustad is pledging to end drug decriminalization if he is elected B.C. premier. 

“There is no such thing as a safe supply of hard drugs. More people are dying than ever before,” he said. “We must bring back common sense to B.C. and under a Conservative government, we would end decriminalization and the so-called ‘safe’ supply of hard drugs.”

Rustad wants to “restore the health and dignity of addicts” by “converting all injection sites into recovery intake centres,” and build facilities that “emulate the Alberta model in helping addicts overcome their addiction and live fulfilling lives.”