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Despite British Columbia Premier David Eby previously defending the province’s drug decriminalization pilot project, he has decided to extinguish the flame.

British Columbia has rolled back its drug decriminalization pilot project, banning drug use in all public spaces, including hospitals, transit, and parks. 

The change does not criminalize drug possession in private residences or at overdose prevention sites and drug-checking locations.

The province reversed its policy following criticism from mayors, provincial and federal politicians, and a recent outcry from healthcare workers who were endangered by patients using drugs in hospitals. 

“Keeping people safe is our highest priority. While we are caring and compassionate for those struggling with addiction, we do not accept street disorder that makes communities feel unsafe,” said Eby.

Senior police officials testified before a parliamentary committee last week, indicating that British Columbia’s decriminalization pilot project lacked sufficient guardrails to maintain public order.

The change comes the same day as B.C. Mental Health Minister Jennifer Whiteside met with her federal counterpart, Ya’ara Saks, in Vancouver, asking the Liberal government to help the province with its public drug use problem.

Also, the NDP are facing an election this year and opposition parties including the Conservative Party of British Columbia and BC United have pledged to overturn decriminalization.

Whiteside asked Saks to assist with providing increased supervision at drug consumption sites.

Police will now have the ability to enforce against drug use in all public spaces, but arrest for possession of illegal drugs will only occur under “exceptional circumstances.”

“We’re taking action to make sure police have the tools they need to ensure safe and comfortable communities for everyone as we expand treatment options so people can stay alive and get better,” added Eby.

Police are encouraged to ask drug users to leave, seize the drugs, and, as a last resort, arrest them if required.

British Columbia’s Minister of Public Safety, Mike Farnworth, said that the province will continue to target gangs and organized criminals making and trafficking toxic drugs while taking action to make drugs illegal in public spaces.

“Our communities are facing big challenges. People are dying from deadly street drugs, and we see the issues with public use and disorder on our street,” said Farnworth.

Hospital workers have also reported a surge in illicit substance use within patient rooms and bathrooms, even in maternity wards, which they say jeopardizes the safety of both staff and patients.

On top of banning drug use in hospitals, the province said it will improve safety and security for patients, visitors, and healthcare workers. 

Patients admitted into hospitals will be questioned whether they have a problem with drugs. If they answer yes, support and medical oversight will be provided to ensure that they receive personalized care to help them with their addiction and medical issues.

British Columbia’s Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, applauded how the new policy will make hospitals safer.

“The action plan launching today will improve how patients with addictions are supported while they need hospital care while preventing others from being exposed to the second-hand effects of illicit drug use,” said Dix.

While banning drugs, the province is also expanding availability and accessibility to those addicted to opioids. 

The province said it will integrate addiction services with healthcare, housing, and other related services. British Columbia also said it intends to work with experts to “develop methods to track prescribed alternatives with the aim of identifying and preventing diversion.”

Illegal drug use exploded at B.C.’s beaches, parks, and hospitals since the province’s decriminalization project was implemented on Jan. 31, 2023, which led to intense public backlash.

Drug users were allowed to possess and use small amounts of various toxic drugs, like fentanyl, in public without being arrested or facing legal consequences.

Mayors from across British Columbia called the widespread public drug use a “crisis.”

British Columbia saw a record of at least 2,511 suspected deaths from illegal drug use in 2023 despite the decriminalization pilot being active.