VICTORIA -- B.C. Premier John Horgan says he supports police chiefs from across Canada who are calling for the decriminalization of illicit drugs for personal use.

The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs announced Thursday that it endorses the decriminalization of drug possession and is calling for a national task force to research drug policy reforms.

"If not now, when?" the premier responded Thursday to a question about decriminalizing drugs amid B.C.'s ongoing opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're in the midst of a global pandemic when it comes to COVID-19. In British Columbia that is further complicated by an overdose crisis which saw last month the highest monthly number of deaths that we've seen in a good long time," Horgan said.

In a statement Thursday, the head of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs (CAPC) said the role of frontline officers has already shifted away from traditional enforcement toward harm reduction.

“Canada continues to grapple with the fentanyl crisis and a poisoned drug supply that has devastated our communities and taken thousands of lives,” said CAPC president and Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer.

"We recommend that enforcement for possession give way to an integrated health-focused approach that requires partnerships between police, healthcare and all levels of government." 

The BC Coroners service announced last month that more drug users died in May in British Columbia than in any other month in the province's history.

"Anything we can do to reduce the deaths and to reduce the dependence and to, quite frankly, free up law enforcement to do other things, I support," Horgan said.

The premier said his government is limited in what it can do as drug policy and enforcement is a federal issue, but said he has "made it clear to the prime minister where British Columbia stands."

Horgan said the years-long opioid epidemic in B.C. is proof that a change to drug policy is required.

"I don’t have experience – serious experience – with addictions, other than being a smoker in my past," Horgan said.

"But we need as a society to come together and say, 'We cannot allow our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our neighbours to continue to succumb to overdose deaths because we're not prepared to do everything we can to reduce that likelihood."