British Columbia is the first Canadian province to grant an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, removing criminal penalties for possession of some hard drugs. The three-year exemption will take effect on the last day of January 2023. “Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson said.
“By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.” The provincial government plans to work with the federal government, health authorities, law enforcement, people with lived experience, and community organizations to introduce indicators that will help establish outcomes.
While the substances remain illegal, adults aged 18 and older, who possess 2.5 grams or less of opioids, cocaine, and/or various forms of methamphetamine for personal use, will not get arrested, charged, or have their drugs seized. Police will offer health and social resources as requested. B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, “By removing the fear and shame of drug use, we will be able to remove barriers that prevent Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions people from accessing harm reduction services and treatment programs.”