• Wednesday , 29 June 2022

B.C. takes “historic, brave and groundbreaking” step on drug crisis

Dan Meyers photo on Unsplash

Aberdeen Publishing

British Columbia has become the first jurisdiction in Canada to be granted an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of certain hard drugs.

The temporary exemption – not legalization – applies to Canadians 18 years of age and older within the province who will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. The exemption will be in effect from Jan. 31, 2023 to Jan. 31 2026 throughout B.C.

“Decriminalizing possession of drugs is a historic, brave and groundbreaking step in the fight to save lives from the poisoned drug crisis,” said Kennedy Stewart, mayor of Vancouver who arguably is at ground zero of the drug pandemic. “Today marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favours health care over handcuffs,” he said.

The exemption from federal drug laws is a result of a request from the B.C. government, which had suggested a threshold of up to 4.5 grams of illicit drugs, an amount many working in this area felt was already too low.

“The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.

Bennett said public health and safety impacts of the request by B.C. were “thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered”.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis.”

More than 9,400 British Columbians have died from illicit drug overdoses since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.

The province said it will be working with a broad range of partners to implement this policy change which includes establishing public health and public safety indicators in order to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this exemption in real-time.

B.C. will be partnering the federal government, health authorities, law enforcement, people with lived and living experience, Indigenous partners and community organizations.

“This exemption is a vital step to keeping people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer.

“By removing the fear and shame of drug use, we will be able to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing harm reduction services and treatment programs.”

The federal and provincial governments said they will work closely to evaluate and monitor the implementation of this exemption, to address any unintended consequences and to ensure that this exemption “continues to be the right decision for the people of B.C.”

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