British Columbia Decriminalizes Drugs

Today is the day British Columbia decriminalizes drugs.

Although Canada’s province of British Columbia hasn’t decriminalized all drugs, psilocybin mushrooms and Lysergamides like LSD remain illegal.

But adults can possess up to 2.5 grams of:

  • Methamphetamine
  • MDMA
  • Cocaine (including crack cocaine)
  • Opioids (including heroin, fentanyl and morphine)

Decriminalizing these drugs is part of a three-year pilot program by the federal government. The exemption expires on January 31, 2026, unless the government revokes it.

British Columbia decriminalization of drugs is similar to the policy of the nearby American state of Oregon. This begs the question – Has decriminalizing drugs been successful in Oregon?

Doesn’t the city of Vancouver essentially already have decriminalization? And what specifically about decriminalization reduces “stigma” or encourages “recovery?”

Vancouver Decriminalization? 

British Columbia Decriminalizes Drugs

British Columbia is decriminalizing drugs for one reason: to reduce the sky-high rates of overdose deaths.

The idea is that decriminalization removes the stigma of being an addict. This allows the drug user to enter treatment and recovery without shame or guilt.

Indeed, B.C.’s rationale for decriminalization is “taking a critical step to end the shame and stigma that prevents people with substance-use challenges from reaching out for life-saving help.”

But wouldn’t Vancouver have succeeded in this venture if this were true? The Vancouver Police Department has pursued “de facto decriminalization” for nearly a decade.

A 2021 report from the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police found a majority of officers were no longer enforcing small personal-use possession of drugs.

The report reads: “The data show that the PPSC guideline has effectively decriminalized possession of personal amounts of illicit drugs in British Columbia.”

Yet, despite de facto Vancouver decriminalization, overdoses have never been worse.

Oregon Decriminalizes Drugs – Success?

Oregon British Columbia Drug Decriminalization

Oregon has the same reasons for decriminalizing drugs as B.C. Namely, to reduce the sky-high rates of overdose deaths.

But how successful have they been?

Oregon decriminalized drugs in 2020, yet a recent audit by the Oregon Health Authority saw fatal overdoses increase alongside drug abuse rates.

Oregon was sold the same bill of goods as British Columbia. If you decriminalize hard drugs, users will be more likely to seek treatment.

But Oregon found fewer than one percent were opting for rehab.

But What About Portugal? 

Portugal decriminalized virtually all drugs in 2001. But, as Dr. Julian Somers told the National Post“Portugal has 64 therapeutic communities and zero consumption sites. British Columbia has zero therapeutic communities and 40-something consumption sites.”

As well, Portugal did more than remove criminal penalties for addicts. They went after dealers and suppliers big time. They also upped civil penalties, which included mandatory treatment.

British Columbia isn’t following through with these latter two options.

Meanwhile, Canada’s healthcare system is on the verge of collapse. B.C. barely has enough hospital beds as it is. Wait time for a medical detox bed is more than 100 days. 

The Problem with British Columbia Decriminalization of Drugs

British Columbia Decriminalizes Drugs

Medical detox is the only reason to seek out healthcare professionals for a drug habit. Everything else is a choice.

The problem with decriminalization practiced by B.C. or Oregon is that it still views addiction as a disease or mental disorder. This is what creates stigma.

The attitudes of public health and “addiction experts” contribute to the stigma surrounding problematic drug use. Their ideology labels individuals as “addicts,” leading to shame and low self-esteem.

They focus on addiction’s “chronic” and “progressive nature.” Is there a better way to create a sense of hopelessness than labelling problematic behaviour as a brain disease?

Labelling drug use as a mental health issue perpetuates stereotypes about individuals who struggle with substance abuse.

The emphasis on reducing dependence on drugs, rather than helping individuals develop the skills they need to live a fulfilling life without them, also creates the perception that individuals are not in control of their own lives.

And that is the biggest problem with B.C. decriminalizing drugs. People should be able to buy and sell any good or service so long as it’s not harming anyone else. You don’t get to prevent me from purchasing cannabis over some alleged “social” harm.

But the ideology surrounding drug use in this country is so confused you wonder what the results of B.C. decriminalizing drugs will be.

Ending Stigma The Right Way

B.C. Decriminalizes Drugs 

Because “public health” focus on external factors, such as genetics or environment, and thus give the impression that individuals do not have control over their own behaviour, this perpetuates feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem.

And it is these attitudes that contribute to the stigma surrounding addiction. These attitudes make it more difficult for individuals to seek help.

And when they seek help, they’re not empowered to take control of their own lives.

Nobody is teaching addicts about personal responsibility, self-awareness, and self-change. Instead, they’re getting shoved into ineffective 12-step programs, psychoanalysis, or given medication. 

Wouldn’t a better model teach participants to gain a better understanding of their motivations and behaviour, so they can choose to live a life that’s under their control? One that may or may not include drug use? 

What are your thoughts on the decriminalization? Do you think it will be better for the people? We have written about B.C. taking steps to decriminalize the drugs in our previous article too. If you would like to read it again, please click here. And don’t forget to follow us @cannalifenet.