The Canadian province of British Columbia (B.C.) has announced a three-year exemption under the country’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs for personal use. British Columbia, which includes the city of Vancouver, is the first Canadian province to receive the exemption, with the aim of reducing ‘the shame and fear associated with substance use’.
The exemption is ‘not legalisation’, the province states, and will come into force next January and run until January 2026. Adults in possession of 2.5g or less of certain drugs will not face arrest or charge, or have their drugs seized, with police instead offering information on treatment and other support ‘with referrals when requested’. The exemption will cover opioids including heroin and fentanyl, powder and crack cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine. It will still be illegal to possess the drugs in schools, childcare facilities or airports, however, and the province will work with health and law agencies, the federal government, people with lived experience and indigenous communities to monitor outcomes and address any unintended consequences. Canada became the first G7 country to legalise cannabis in 2018 (DDN, November 2018, page 4).
The province has also been increasing its residential rehab and harm reduction provision in response to Canada’s ongoing opioid crisis. Last saw more than 2,200 drug-related deaths in B.C., more than 25 per cent up on 2020’s figures and the equivalent of six deaths per day. ‘Decriminalising possession of drugs is a historic, brave and groundbreaking step in the fight to save lives from the poisoned drug crisis,’ said Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart. ‘Today marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favours healthcare over handcuffs, and I could not be more proud of the leadership shown here by the governments of Canada and British Columbia.’
‘Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,’ added B.C.’s mental health and addictions minister, Sheila Malcolmson. ‘By decriminalising people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.’
Meanwhile, production and trafficking of synthetic drugs in East and South East Asia hit ‘record’ levels last year, according to a new UNODC report. Organised crime groups exploited the pandemic and political instability in parts of the ‘Golden Triangle’ region of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar to produce ‘extreme’ volumes of methamphetamine, with more than 170 tons seized in 2021 and street prices dropping to an all-time low.
‘The scale and reach of the methamphetamine and synthetic drug trade in East and Southeast Asia is staggering, and yet it can continue to expand if the region does not change approach and address the root causes that have allowed it to get to this point, including governance in the Golden Triangle and market demand,’ said UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas. ‘Organised crime have all the ingredients in-place that they need to continue to grow the business, including territory to produce, access to chemicals, established trafficking routes and relationships to move product, and a massive population with spending power to target.’