A federal exemption has allowed British Columbia (B.C.) to decriminalize drugs. Adults in British Columbia will be able to possess small amounts of substances. Things like opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
Because drug prohibition is Ottawa’s responsibility, there had to be an exemption for British Columbia. B.C. is the first and only province to receive this exemption, but cities like Toronto have also applied.
There won’t be any brick-and-mortar retail for cocaine and ecstasy. Instead, Canadians within British Columbia won’t get arrested for having less than 2.5 grams of opioids. Or cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.
Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said the move was part of an effort to curtail opioid deaths in the province. B.C. saw 2,224 drug overdose deaths in 2021. Since 2016, the death toll has nearly hit 10,000.
Advocates welcome the change, having long argued addiction is a mental health issue, not a criminal one.
The delay until next year is to give government bureaucracies and other associated interests time to prepare for the shift in policy.
In addition to granting decriminalization, the federal government is providing $11.78 million for addiction programs in British Columbia.
B.C. Decriminalizes Drugs : But Why?
Supporting B.C.’s decriminalization of all drugs is a no-brainer. But one wonders why the federal government didn’t do this for cannabis. Canadians waited three years for the Liberals to get around to legalization.
At the time, Trudeau’s Liberals told us that decriminalization wouldn’t take the profits out of the hands of criminals. Nor would decriminalization protect the children.
Never mind that these supposed “criminals” are peaceful BC Bud farmers unconnected to violent gangs. Or that teen use was already decreasing before legalization.
Bill Blair said cannabis decriminalization would “create much greater risk for our communities.” Justin Trudeau said, “the fact of the matter” is that decriminalization “actually gives a legal stream of income to criminal organizations.”
So why can the government allow B.C. to decriminalize cocaine in 2022 but not cannabis in 2015? Why did they ignore all the evidence from the Allard ruling that proved beyond a doubt that BC Bud was peaceful and responsible?
Legalization vs. Decriminalization
The B.C. government said, “This exemption is not legalization.” But decriminalization used to be synonymous with legalization. So what has changed?
When people live together in a society, disputes inevitably arise, and laws are needed. Because violence is unpredictable and costly, human beings naturally seek peaceful alternatives like negotiation.
English common law is case-generated law and evolved from the settlement of actual disputes. For example, tort law, property law, contract law, commercial law, and criminal law would be enough to regulate cannabis effectively—no need for provincial and federal regulators.
Tort and criminal law provide security, while contract, property, and commercial law facilitate cooperation and exchange. Politics doesn’t need to enter the picture. In the western legal tradition, laws were procedural and not preemptively created by politicians.
In this way, laws – which restrict human activity – only arose when people needed them. We need laws so people can live together peacefully in society. Common law promotes rules for peace with minimal infringement on civil and economic liberties.
Once upon a time, this was the norm. Part of the reason Western civilization became so prosperous was its proto-anarchist legal system. One that developed “empirical natural rights” byways of “analogical evidence.”
Government laws are created by whoever controls the political apparatus. Legislation makes possible the exploitative actions of a politically-dominant class. B.C. decriminalization is only a thing because of unjust prohibition laws created by the government.
Will B.C. Decriminalization Even Work?
When Britain decriminalized cannabis, the police became more aggressive towards individual possession amounts. With the threat of a criminal record gone for small amounts, cannabis became easy to find everywhere in lower quantities.
Instead of going after large-scale dealers and organized crime, as the proponents of decriminalization promised, the unintended consequences saw more cannabis on the market. Thus police felt compelled by conservative communities and anti-cannabis lobby groups to combat this increase in cannabis by targeting individuals with smaller amounts.
Can we expect the same thing when B.C. decriminalizes? Smaller amounts of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA to flood the market? The wrong incentives might win over with complete decriminalization for anything under 2.5 grams. The unintended consequences might be a proliferation of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
But the drug war is a war on people. So who cares what the market for these substances looks like. People are responsible for their own bodies and what they put in them. If anything, B.C.’s decriminalization of 2.5 grams is too damn low.