Small-scale possession of illicit drugs will be decriminalized in BC from next year: federal government

Adults in British Columbia will be able to get small amounts of some illicit drugs from next year, the federal government announced on Tuesday.

The federal government says Canadians aged 18 and over may have up to 2.5 grams of accumulated opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA in British Columbia. The announcement is in response to a request from the provincial exemption law that criminalizes drug possession.

This exemption, the first of its kind, will take effect on January 31, 2023 and will last until January 31, 2026.

Federal Minister for Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett and her provincial counterpart Sheila Malcolmson today announced a joint policy change in Vancouver.

The city has been the site of an increase in drug overdose deaths that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. BC saw 2,224 suspected deaths from illicit drug overdoses.

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BC decided to fight opioid crisis after record overdose deaths in 2021

After more than 2,200 deaths from illicit drug overdoses in 2021, British Columbia remains determined to fight the opioid crisis, even with the strongest street drugs and long waits for treatment.

It is a dramatic political shift in favor of what decriminalization advocates say is an approach that treats addiction as a health problem rather than a criminal problem.

BC, Vancouver and Toronto Public Health have filed separate waiver applications to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illicit drugs.

Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Minister of Health has the authority to grant exemptions if it is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or otherwise is in the public interest.” The federal government has confirmed that applications from Vancouver and Toronto Public Health are still under review.

The principle of decriminalizing the possession of a small amount of illicit drugs has been endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. The BC Police Chiefs Association has also supported the idea, though recommends decriminalization possession of only 1 gram accumulated.

Although the federal government has granted an exemption, it is not giving BC exactly what it asked for.

An important difference is the amount of drugs that are decriminalized for personal possession. BC demanded a cumulative 4.5 grams – the federal exemption only allows 2.5 grams.

Health Canada said it consulted numerous sources of information to establish its ownership threshold. He also acknowledged the lack of evidence to determine what an effective threshold would be. The department said that once the exemption is established, it will be thoroughly examined by a third party and its details could change as evidence is gathered and analyzed.

Delaying implementation until January 2023 was aimed at giving governments and agencies time for training, consultation, and outreach, and otherwise preparing for policy change, federal officials said. and provincial.

Activities such as production and trafficking are still illegal

The exemption has other limitations. It does not apply to the facilities of primary or secondary schools, daycare centers or airports. It does not apply to Canadians subject to the Army Disciplinary Code.

The BC Ministry of Health said they see decriminalization only as part of a set of policies aimed at tackling the opioid overdose crisis.

Health Canada said the exemption does not decriminalize activities such as trafficking, production, import or export of controlled substances.

The exemption comes just a day before a vote is expected on a decriminalization bill tabled by NPD MP Gord Johns.

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