Later this month, the BC government will begin a three-year program to decriminalize the possession of some drugs.
The BC government says decriminalizing drugs is a “crucial step” in the fight against the toxic drug crisis in the province, which has led to the loss of countless lives over the last few years.
“It will help reduce the barriers and stigma that prevent people from accessing life-saving supports and services. Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal justice issue.”
The move makes BC the first province to decriminalize small amounts of controlled drugs.
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As of January 31, the province will be able to decriminalize certain drugs thanks to an exemption Health Canada has granted from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to the Province of BC.
BC calls it a “time-limited exemption,” set to expire on January 31, 2026.
How it will work in practice is anyone 18 or older will not be arrested or charged for possessing small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use.
The total amount has to be equal to or less than 2.5 grams.
The exemption covers the following drugs:
- Opioids like heroin, fentanyl and morphine
- Crack and powder cocaine
- MDMA (Ecstasy)
Adults who are found with a combination of any of these drugs that add up to reach a combined total of 2.5 grams won’t be subject to criminal charges, nor will their drugs be seized.
Instead, they’ll be offered information about health and social supports, including treatment and recovery services if requested.
Anyone 18 and over caught with more than 2.5 grams of these drugs will not fall under the new decriminalization rules. Furthermore, possessing any amount of drugs not listed in the exemption will still be criminal.
“Decriminalization is not legalization. Under this exemption, illegal drugs (including those listed in the exemption) will not be legalized and will not be sold in stores. Drug trafficking will remain illegal, regardless of the amount of drug(s) in possession,” says the BC government.
Other exceptions to this new program include being caught with any amount of these drugs on elementary or secondary school grounds or at licensed child-care facilities, airports, or Canadian Coast Guard vessels.
Illegal drug use will continue to be prohibited on private property or at places like malls, bars and cafes.
“Police will retain legal authority to remove people from these premises under the authority of the Trespass Act if open drug use is occurring against the wishes of the owner.”
However, even those who are removed from these locations will not be subject to federal criminal charges as long as they fall within the confines of the exemption, which means possessing only up to 2.5 grams of the illegal drugs mentioned.
BC is preparing for this historic move by creating a robust plan for training police, educating the public about the changes, and engaging with First Nation communities.