B.C. advocates say feds proposed lower threshold for drug decriminalization is harmful

Advocates for drug users in B.C. say the federal government’s proposed legal drug possession amounts will be too small. Kier Junos reports on how this may increase harm, especially for the most vulnerable drug users.

The federal government is looking at decriminalizing drug possession in B.C., but advocates say the amount of drugs the government is considering to let people carry is dangerously low.

Leslie McBain is the co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm and has been in consultation meetings on drug policy in Ontario with Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson this week. McBain says the minister said the federal government is mulling a 2.5-gram cumulative threshold.

Malcolmson’s ministry won’t confirm this number, adding the decision has not been made.

B.C. has requested a cumulative threshold of 4.5 grams for opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine.

McBain warns 2.5-grams is counterproductive and possibly dangerous to people who use drugs.

“People who are addicted almost always need more than 2.5 grams in a day,” McBain explains. “If they want to avoid interactions with law enforcement, it forces them to go out multiple times a day into what is often a dangerous black market to access small amounts of drugs instead of one journey to that environment … [to prevent] going into withdrawal.”

People who use drugs can go into withdrawal if they are using a smaller dose than needed, McBain explains. This will cause them to be sick and extremely uncomfortable.

“The other thing is, people may be tempted to use a larger amount of drugs at one time in that environment than they normally would. And the risk there, of course, is overdose from a toxic drug supply.”

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In a statement, Minister Malcolmson says, “The federal government has not made a final decision on our application for decriminalization. We continue to work closely with Minister Bennett and her ministry on this submission.”

Health Canada wouldn’t give CityNews a timeline on decriminalization when asked, saying, “There is no set time period for making a decision on unique exemption requests. The review time varies depending on the complexity and completeness of the request.”

Brittany Graham with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) adds she is concerned law enforcement may have too much input in this process.

“The fact that we are continuing to bring in people who police and criminalize drug users into the conversation is a slap in the face to the public health movement.”

VANDU and other advocate groups say having such small quantities — opens up the most vulnerable drug users to more police confiscation, painful withdrawal symptoms, and being forced to get drugs from people that they can’t trust.

“If we’re not thinking about those people, what are we doing here? We can see this could be a potential place for causing more harm and possibly more overdoses,” Graham said.

In its new budget, the federal government plans to give Health Canada $100-million over three years to address the opioid crisis. They put forward $116-million in 2021 – but deaths from illicit drug poisoning still broke records.


– With files from Nikitha Martins

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