British Columbia to decriminalize small-time illegal substances possession by 2023

A groundbreaking decision
A shift in Canadian drug policy
2.5 grams or less
Law extemption
Vancouver has a drug problem
Worrying numbers
Police endorsement
The first step of a big change?
The Controlled Drug and Substances Act
British Columbia did the homework
Decriminalization does not equal legalization
From Criminal to victim
Funding substance programs
Toronto might be next
Alberta is not a happy neighbour
Trauma
From punishment to rehabilitation
A groundbreaking decision

In a groundbreaking decision, Canada’s federal government has decided to decriminalize small-time drug possession in British Columbia starting on January 1, 2023, and last until January 31, 2026.

Image: Benoit Debaix / Unsplash

A shift in Canadian drug policy

The exception, CBC highlights, marks a dramatic shift in Canadian drug policy. The law means no arrests, charges, or seizures of personal possession of prohibited substances at 2.5 grams or less.

2.5 grams or less

The federal government says Canadians those 18 years of age and older will be able to possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA within British Columbia.

Law extemption

The decision was taken after the provincial government of British Columbia requested Ottawa to be exempt from the law criminalizing the possession of illegal substances.

Pictured: British Columbia Parliament at Victoria.

Vancouver has a drug problem

One of the reasons behind the request was a sudden rise in deaths by drug overdose in Vancouver, British Columbia’s largest city, throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Worrying numbers

According to data cited by CBC, over 2,220 people were suspected to die of drug overdose in Vancouver in 2021.

Police endorsement

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has endorsed decriminalization, The Times Colonist writes.

The first step of a big change?

Carolyn Bennett, the Canadian Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, believes that this is the first step to “much-needed bold action and significant policy change”, as she told the press.

The Controlled Drug and Substances Act

Under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, the Health Minister can grant exemptions if it is “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest”.

Image: Jason Hafso / Unsplash

British Columbia did the homework

Bennett remarked that British Columbia already had done a lot of groundwork before applying for an exemption.

Image: Mike Benna / Unsplash

Decriminalization does not equal legalization

However, the Health Minister was quick to point out that decriminalization does not equal legalization. Additionally, activities such as production and trafficking will remain punishable by law

Image: Myriam Zilles / Unsplash

From Criminal to victim

“You have to have a system where you are diverted from the criminal justice system into health and social services, and that means social services have to be there”, Bennett declared to CBC.

Funding substance programs

The Health Minister also announced 11.7 million Canadian dollars (Around 9 million US dollars) in funding to support substance programs in British Columbia.

Toronto might be next

Toronto has also filed an exemption request to the Canadian government to decriminalize possession of small amounts of illegal substances.

Alberta is not a happy neighbour

However, not everyone is happy with the new measure. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticized the exemption in a statement: “As a neighbouring province, the Government of Alberta is alarmed by this announcement to decriminalize, and we will be monitoring the situation very closely”.

Trauma

“Criminalizing members of our communities who use drugs has resulted in decades of causing further harms to many who are already suffering from mental or physical health challenges and/or the effects of emotional or physical trauma,” says British Columbia’s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, on an official provincial press release.

From punishment to rehabilitation

“Decriminalization will help shift our focus from punishment, which has resulted in social isolation, stigma and fear, toward a medical model that recognizes substance use as a health issue”, adds Lapointe.

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