UPDATE: Pro-decriminalization protest in New West postponed

Drug policy activist Dana Larsen advocating for safe supply for substance users

UPDATE:

A protest intended to advocate for decriminalization and a safe supply of drugs for substance users has been cancelled due to "illnesses and family emergencies," activist Dana Larsen said on Twitter.

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The protest has instead been moved to Wednesday, July 17. 

ORIGINAL:

A group of drug policy activists are holding an "Occupy For Safe Supply" protest today (Wednesday) outside the office of Judy Darcy, New Westminster MLA and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

Dana Larsen, a longtime drug policy activist, announced the protest on Twitter Tuesday morning, saying the group is "rallying in support of decrim and safe drug supply."

The decriminalization – and even tempered legalization – movement has been growing for all substances in recent years, as the overdose crisis continues to rattle the province, devastating families and communities.

Health authorities and even some police forces have acknowledged the role of prohibition in the overdose crisis, and some are calling for a "safe supply" to counter the tainted drugs coming from the black market, often adulterated with fentanyl and its analogues and, more recently, benzodiazepines.

Fatal overdoses were steadily climbing from the low 200s annually since at least 2009 to the mid-300s annually in around 2014, but the growth was exponential between 2015 and 2017, and has since appeared to plateau at around 1,500 overdose deaths each year.

Other harm reduction measures have been introduced in response to the crisis – the proliferation of clean needles and overdose-reversing naloxone and the development overdose prevention and safe consumption sites – and more recently the B.C. government has been introducing more injectable opioid replacement therapies.

That includes injectable hydromorphone, an opioid that has been shown to be as effective at reducing problematic substance use as prescription heroin.

However, activists are calling for full decriminalization, an end to prosecution for simple drug possession, and for the B.C. government to step in and provide an untainted drug supply to undermine the import of drugs through the illicit market and prevent overdoses.

That call has been amplified by the B.C. government's own senior staff – earlier this year, the province's chief public health officer, Bonnie Henry, called for "de facto" decriminalization of substance users. However, Solicitor General and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth rejected that call the same day it was announced.

The federal Liberal government has also rejected calls within its own party to decriminalize drugs.

Larsen's event will be running from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at Darcy's office at 301-625 Fifth Ave. in New West.

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