Canada Decriminalizes Opioids and Other Drugs in British Columbia

Faced with rising levels of opioid deaths since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the Canadian government announced Tuesday that it had ground zero possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, in the western province of British Columbia. for the country’s overdose.

The exemption, announced Tuesday by the country’s drug regulator, comes four years after the country legalized the possession and consumption of recreational marijuana and placed Canada among a small group of countries worldwide that have taken steps to decriminalize illegal drugs.

The announcement was welcomed by families of deceased opioid users and fellow supporters, and was supported by: police associations and British Columbia Chief Coronerbut many harm reduction activists demanded that the government go further by extending the exemption across the country and raising the threshold to larger amounts.

British Columbia declared drug-related deaths a public health emergency in 2016. rates in North America.

“For too many years, the ideological opposition to harm reduction has cost lives,” Dr. Carolyn Bennett, the federal secretary for mental health and addictions, said at a news conference Tuesday.

“Today is a very important day and it’s hard to believe we’ve actually made it here,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, adding that when her report calling for the decriminalization of people who use drugs was published in 2018, “there wasn’t much support for it at any level.”

British Columbia has been a leader in Canada’s harm reduction movement. It opened the first controlled injection site in North America in Vancouver in 2003, more than a decade after it launched the province’s first needle exchange program.

The exemption allows drug users to carry up to 2.5 grams of a total of four listed substances for personal use: opioids, cocaine, methamphetamines and MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly.

People over the age of 18 who carry these drugs, in prescribed amounts and for personal use, will not be charged, arrested or seized by the police. Instead, interactions with officers will be used as an opportunity to be referred to local health and social services if the individual so desires.

The exemption will take effect on January 31, 2023 and will expire after three years.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Guy Felicella, a peer clinical counselor at the BC Center on Substance Use in Vancouver, who has spent decades in and out of prison for drug-related crimes since he was 16. “Arresting me and incarcerating me for all these years for using drugs has never stopped me from using drugs – even when I went to jail. It did nothing but create stigma and discrimination, shame

He added, “It’s a shame it’s only in British Columbia, isn’t it, and it’s not across Canada.”

The exemption does not apply in certain environments, including airports, schools, childcare centers, on board coast guard ships or helicopters, or for military members.

The City of Vancouver also filed for a waiver in March 2021, which is still pending with Health Canada. If approved, the city’s waiver would cover all amphetamines. Ms. Bennett, the federal minister, said British Columbia’s successful application could set an example for other municipalities decriminalizing drugs for personal possession, including Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton.


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