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Vancouver Island MLA calls for an end to ‘war on drugs’ approach

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen plans to continue lobbying for a safe drug supply
Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, speaks about drug use during a recent speech in the legislature. (Government of British Columbia)

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen says authorities need a new approach when it comes to dealing with the public health effects of illicit drugs.

“We need to overcome this stigma that we have that some drugs are illicit and others are not,” he said.

“We need to get past that. We need to get past the old frame of a ‘war on drugs’ and recognize that no matter if they make legal or not, the reality is that people are accessing this and the illicit drug supply is toxic because people are cutting them with exceptionally toxic substances.”

Olsen made these comments in a far-ranging interview last week after publicly revealing in the media and the Legislative Assembly that he used cocaine in his 20s.

“My hope is that other people see the opportunity to help break down the stigma that we have specifically around substance use and abuse and addiction,” he said.

“I’m certainly going to continue to talk about this and ask these questions in the legislature, and by sharing this story it allows me to talk about it in a different way than I have been in the past.”

Olsen said he will use his role as MLA to continue to urge the government to move with “much greater urgency on a community-led, regulated safe supply.”

RELATED: Adam Olsen reveals past drug use in an attempt to end stigma

As a matter of policy, the most important step is to make sure people who need help don’t die before they receive help, he said.

“Right now, we have a toxic illicit drug supply,” he said. “We have seen that the current approach has failed. In the last six years, 7,000 British Columbians have died. That is a really shocking situation.”

Speaking in the legislature in the spring, Olsen called on the government to create “immediate, non-stigmatized, effectively dosed and consistent access” to drugs to “save people from the poisonous drug supply” circulating through B.C.

Olsen has in past also pushed the province to lobby the federal government to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of drugs, pointing to a 2019 report by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, recommending that the province “urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use.”

As such, Olsen appears as a local voice among a growing national chorus of individuals and institutions calling on federal authorities to decriminalize illicit drugs. While the federal government has not made any specific promises, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’ recently announced cabinet includes a new ministry for mental health and addictions, a potential sign post for future changes.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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