Health & Science

In Canada, British Columbia will temporarily decriminalize possession of small quantities of some illicit drugs

The province of British Columbia in Canada was granted an exemption so that adults with less than 2.5 grams of heroin, cocaine, meth or MDMA are not charged and don’t see their drugs seized.

Canada's federal minister of Mental health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announcing British Columbia will decriminalize small possession of cocaine, heroine, meth and ecstasy for three years
Canada’s federal minister of Mental health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announcing British Columbia will decriminalize small possession of cocaine, heroin, meth and ecstasy for three years | Twitter

Canada’s federal minister of Mental health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announced on May 31 that the province of British Columbia is granted a three-year exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

At its request, British Columbia temporarily removes criminal penalties for people who possess a small amount of some illicit substances for personal use.

People who are 18 years of age or older with 2.5 grams or less of opioid, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA (ecstasy) for their personal use will no longer be arrested or charged. Fentanyl, morphine, opium poppies and their derivatives, i.e. heroin, are among the decriminalized opioids. Adults in possession of less than the cumulative 2.5 grams will not have their drugs seized.

The decision is taken amid the opioid crisis that affects North America. British Columbia declared a public health emergency in April 2016 in response to the increase in overdose deaths. In six years, there have been more than 9,400 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in the province and a record 2,224 last year.

Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” said Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.”

This exemption will be in effect from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2026, throughout British Columbia, until it is revoked or replaced by another exemption.

The drugs are not legalized but police will be tasked to offer information on available health and social support for those with less than 2.5 grams. Trade, import and export, delivery, production and administration of these drugs remain illegal. Moreover, the exemption will not apply in school premises, airports, child care facilities or if the substance is readily available to the adult driving or operating a vehicle like a car, boat or train.

British Columbia, with a population of about 5.2 million people, is the first province in Canada to receive an exemption so that adults are not subject to criminal charges for the personal possession of some illegal drugs. Vancouver, the most populous city of B.C. will pause its exemption request. The government of Alberta had ruled out seeking an exemption, according to The Globe and Mail. B.C.’s application was finalized in November and originally sought an exemption of up to 4.5 grams.

Some drug-user groups consider the threshold of 4.5 grams was already too low, as people suffering from addictions use more or buy in bulk to save money. Ms. Bennett said that law enforcement reports that about 85% of drug seizures are less than two grams, and that the government was uncomfortable with the idea of a higher threshold.

A bill to decriminalize some drugs will be presented to the House of Commons by the left-wing New Democratic Party but the governing Liberal Party is expected to vote against it.

Recreational and medicinal marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2018 and became the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to broadly legalize cannabis.

Read more about Canada

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