Manitoba not looking at following B.C. in decriminalizing small amounts of illegal drugs

The Manitoba government says it has no plans to follow B.C.’s lead to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal drugs.

After applying for an exemption from the federal government, possession of small amounts of illegal drugs will be decriminalized in B.C., starting next year. Adults found with certain illicit drugs in B.C. will not be charged or arrested, and instead will be offered supports.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province won’t be following suit.

“Our focus is on providing support for individuals who are addicted to drugs and then trying to stem the flow of drugs,” said Goertzen.

At Morberg House in Winnipeg, people like Nathan Ertel are there to recover from drug addiction. Like others at the recovery facility, Ertel has spent time behind bars.

“I did 16 months, and then 18 months back to back,” said Ertel.

He and fellow Morberg House resident Shawn Thomas said being at the facility is better for their recovery than sitting in a cell for their drug-related crimes.

“It gives you a better structure for what you want to do in life,” said Ertel.

“Being in jail you don’t really learn anything, you basically learn new skills and how to be a better criminal,” said Thomas.

Last month Winnipeg City Council passed a motion that included support for decriminalization. The councillor behind the move, Sherri Rollins, is disappointed by the province’s decision.

“The drug poisoning crisis’ that are impacting the city streets all across Manitoba is that big,” said Rollins.

Morberg House Executive Director Marion Willis said governments should decriminalize simple possession of drugs. But she notes it can only be useful if enough long-term recovery programs and supports are in place, which Manitoba is lacking.

“We do have this very fragmented landscape of services out there but again there is no strategy,” said Willis.

On its website, the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police supports decriminalization. It said this approach recognizes addiction is not a crime, it is a public health issue.

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