The Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) has decriminalised the use of drugs including opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.
People found in possession of up to 2.5g of drugs will no longer be arrested or charged, the province states, nor will they have the drugs seized by police.
The move is a ‘critical step to end the shame and stigma that prevents people with substance use challenges from reaching out for life-saving help,’ the province’s government states. Health Canada, the national government’s health department, has granted British Columbia an exemption under the country’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalise personal possession and use, with police instead offering information on local treatment and recovery options. The province has been working with the police to develop training resources and guidance for more than 9,000 frontline officers, as well as ‘building new pathways’ into health services, it says.
British Columbia has stressed that the drugs themselves remain illegal, and possession will still be illegal on school grounds or at childcare facilities. The local and national government will work together to evaluate the exemption and ensure there are no unintended consequences. Canada became the first G7 country to legalise and regulate recreational cannabis in 2018 and recently made international headlines when it revised down its recommended drinking guidelines to just ‘one to two’ alcoholic drinks per week.
‘We know criminalisation drives people to use alone,’ said British Columbia’s minister of mental health and addictions, Jennifer Whiteside. ‘Given the increasingly toxic drug supply, using alone can be fatal. Decriminalising people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports. This is a vital step to get more people connected to the services and supports as the province continues to add them at an unprecedented rate.’
‘Every day, we are losing lives to overdoses from the increasingly toxic illegal drug supply,’ said Canada’s associate health minister Carolyn Bennett. ‘We are committed to stopping this tragic epidemic with bold action and significant policy change. By supporting British Columbia in this exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, our government is providing the province with the ability to help divert people away from the criminal justice system and toward the health and social services they need. We look forward to continuous collaboration with the province to measure the public-health and public-safety outcomes, help save lives and bring an end to this crisis.’