January 31 is a historic day for BC and for Canada, as it becomes the first province in the country to introduce the decriminalization of some illicit drugs.
The Government of BC asked Health Canada for an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which Health Canada has granted. It takes effect between January 31, 2023, and January 31, 2026.
Anyone 18 years of age and older will not be arrested for possessing small amounts of certain drugs for personal use.
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 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.
There are some other exceptions for what falls under decriminalization in BC.
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 will still be considered illegal.
Illegal drug use will continue to be prohibited on private properties or at places like malls, bars, and cafes.
According to the BC government, some of the “visible harms” of criminalization have included overdose events and deaths, stigma and shame, the economic costs of processing people through the criminal justice system, and users resorting to unfamiliar drug sources after a seizure.
BC also detailed some hidden harms, including survival sex work, survival theft, racial disparities in policing, general mistrust of police, and family and community disconnection.
The province also makes a clear distinction that decriminalization is not the same as legalization the way cannabis has been legalized in Canada.
On the road to tomorrow’s changes to the way drug possession is enforced in BC, the government has worked with police forces to develop training resources and guidance, now available to over 9,000 officers.
Other provinces in Canada will likely be paying close attention to this program over the next three years.