The provincial legislature of British Columbia, Canada, passed an act in November to prevent drug usage in places frequented by children and families. They felt the need since they began a pilot program of decriminalizing drugs.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, acted swiftly on Friday to block local laws against public consumption of illegal substances until March 31 because “irreparable harm will be caused” if the laws come into force.
The B.C. provincial legislature passed the Restricting Public Consumption of Illegal Substances Act to fine or imprison people consuming drugs near building entrances, skate parks, parks, beaches, and sports fields. The goal was to impose limits on open-air drug use.
The Harm Reduction Nurses Association argued the act, which has yet to come into effect, would violate the Canadian Charter in various ways if enforced.
BALANCING CONVENIENCE AND RISK
But Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said they didn’t need to present that information since he found that the “balance of convenience and the risk of irreparable harm” weighed in the plaintiff’s favor.
Lawyer Caitlin Shane for the nurses association said the injunction, pending a constitutional challenge, shows “substance use cannot be legislated without scrutiny.”
Mike Farnworth, the province’s public safety minister and solicitor general, said, “The law in question prevents the use of drugs in places that children and families frequent,” Farnworth said in a statement.
“While we respect the decision of the court, we are concerned that this decision temporarily prevents the province from regulating where hard drugs are used, something every other province does every day.”
British Columbia is in the second year of a three-year decriminalization experiment, which allows drug users aged 18 and older to carry up to 2.5 grams of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, as well as crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy for personal use.
The pilot project is a first of its kind in Canada, and it aims to treat illicit drug use and addiction as a health issue, not a criminal one that stigmatizes people and prevents them from seeking help.
The province declared an ongoing public health emergency due to rising overdose deaths in 2016. Since then, more than 13,500 people have fatally overdosed in the province.
However, they can pass laws limiting smoking cigarettes.
THE WILD WEST OF DRUG USE
Brad West, one of the mayors who voiced concerns about public drug use, denounced the decision.
“The court is, once again, demonstrating how out of touch they are,” said West, mayor of Port Coquitlam, located about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Vancouver. “The rules were very modest, providing just a small restriction on drug use in public places, especially where children are present.”
“If this restriction doesn’t stand, then we have truly entered the wild west of unrestricted drug use, anywhere and everywhere,” he said.