Canada's British Columbia scraps program to allow drug use in public spaces

FILE PHOTO: British Columbia Premier David Eby

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian province of British Columbia on Friday scrapped a much-criticized pilot program that allowed the open use of some illegal drugs, citing the need to maintain public safety.

In January 2023, the province said it would stop prosecuting people for carrying small amounts of heroin, meth, ecstasy, or crack cocaine, as part of an effort to fight an overdose crisis.

The program was supposed to last three years but last October, amid complaints about rising crime and the dangers posed by unsafe drug supplies, the province backtracked and unveiled plans to ban public use of illicit drugs.

"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," Premier David Eby said in a statement on Friday.

Police will have the power to enforce against drug use in all public places, including hospitals, restaurants, transit, parks and beaches.

"Guidance will be given to police to only arrest for simple possession of illicit drugs in exceptional circumstances," said the statement, adding that authorities would also expand access to treatment for people struggling with addiction.

The federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in May 2023 it would let the province decriminalize the drugs in a first-of-its-kind exemption. Eby said he would work with Ottawa to reverse that step.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler)