In an effort to reduce the stigma surrounding substance use, BC is decriminalizing personal possession. In November 2021, the province made a formal request to the federal government, asking for an exemption from certain articles in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA). Recently, the request was granted. From January 31st, 2023 to 2026, you’ll be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of any hard drug without criminal penalties. 

Shame + isolation = death

Why decriminalize all illicit substances? Simple, to save people’s lives. BC’s rate of overdose death continues to skyrocket and statistically, it’s alarming. 

  • From January to March 2022, there were 548 drug-related deaths in BC. 
  • The statistics show that the majority of drug-related deaths happen in private residences. 314 of the 548 deaths that occurred this year took place within a home. 

Stigma drives people to hide their drug use, avoid health care and use alone,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.Through provincewide decriminalization, we can reduce the fear and shame that keep people silent about their drug use, and support people to reach out for help, life-saving support, and treatment.

Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions – Image courtesy of The Tyee

A Pathway to Hope

“Decriminalizing possession of drugs is a historic, brave and groundbreaking step in the fight to save lives from the poisoned drug crisis.”Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stuart         

The war on drugs cost a lot of people their lives and created a culture of shame around drug use. It’s time for a new approach, harm reduction. Meant to serve as a roadmap toward better care for mental health and addictions, the Province has adopted a new policy; they are calling it ‘A Pathway to Hope’. According to the provincial website, decriminalizing illicit drugs “is an additional tool that the federal government is providing to BC to help address substance use harms, reduce stigma and prevent overdose deaths.” 

Click here to read the full document – A Pathway to Hope: A roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for people in British Columbia

What will this policy change look like?

It’s important to note that this exemption does not mean legalization. Trafficking and storing large amounts of illegal drugs will still result in criminal penalties. However, if you get caught with 2.5 grams or less of any drug, you won’t be arrested or charged. You’ll get to keep your stash. Police officers will be there to provide information on community resources and health support. In addition, the police will be able to provide referrals for these services whenever requested.

For more information on these coming changes, click here to read the personal possession fact sheet. 

Is this enough?

Decriminalizing personal drug possession is a huge step in the right direction but some critics are saying it’s not enough. There is concern that this change in policy does not factor in a heavy drug user’s high tolerance. Originally, the province asked for a drug threshold of 4.5 grams. However, the exemption was granted for two grams less. The question is why? According to the federal government, the drug threshold was decreased due to input from local law enforcement. The British Columbia Association of Chiefs of Police said the average amount of hard drugs seized across departments varies from:

  • an average of 1.9 grams for the Vancouver and Abbotsford Police departments 
  • 1.6 grams for the Victoria Police department
  • 1.3 grams for the RCMP North District

When this concern was brought to the Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennet responded by saying that the threshold is a starting point; it can be adjusted if needed. 

For more information, click here to read B.C. Decriminalizes Drugs… But Why?

Footnote(s)

https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/birth-adoption-death-marriage-and-divorce/deaths/coroners-service/statistical/illicit-drug.pdf
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2022MMHA0029-000850
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/toxic-drug-measures-1.6232746
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021MMHA0017-000706
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/drugs-health-products/fact-sheet-exemption-personal-possession-small-amounts-certain-illegal-drugs-british-columbia.html
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/drug-decrim-threshold-1.6477327
https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BCMentalHealthRoadmap_2019.pdf