B.C.’s drug decriminalization pilot begins

B.C. has officially begun its drug decriminalization pilot project.

Between Jan. 31, 2023, and Jan. 31, 2026, adults will not be arrested or charged, and their drugs won’t be seized if they’re found in possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances.

“Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal justice one,” B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside said Monday.

“Decriminalizing people who use drugs is a critical step in tackling the toxic drug crisis. It will help to break down stigma, the fear and shame around substance use that prevents so many people from reaching out for life-saving supports.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Decriminalization is not legalization.
  • Decriminalization is made possible after B.C. was granted an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
  • Decriminalization applies to people 18 years and older in B.C. People under the age of 18 are not covered.
  • People will not be arrested or charged if they are found in possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances. The drugs will not be seized.
    • Those drugs include: Opioids (including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl), cocaine (including crack and powder cocaine), Methamphetamine, MDMA
  • Trafficking, import, export, sale, and production of these substances remain illegal.
  • Decriminalization does not apply to adults while on K-12 school grounds, licenced child care facilities, at airports, or on Coast Guard vessels and aircraft.
  • Drug possession remains a criminal offence for Canadian Armed Forces members subject to the Code of Service Discipline, unless otherwise authorized.
  • Possession of the drugs in the exemption is illegal in a motor vehicle or watercraft operated by a minor.
  • Drugs must be properly stored and not readily accessible to a driver or operator of a watercraft.

What is the province doing during the three-year pilot project?

  • The B.C. government says it has hired “health-authority specific positions” through which workers will focus on “building connections with local service providers and people referred by police.”
  • The province says it is increasing voluntary treatment and recovery spaces.
  • Officials are working with police departments to “develop a range of training resources and practical guidance.”
  • Will work with the federal government and other stakeholders to monitor the decriminalization period and make changes or adjustments as needed.

With the pilot project underway, B.C. becomes the first province in Canada to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs.

The first day of the decriminalization period also comes as the province’s chief coroner gets set to reveal how many people died of illicit substances in November and December.

Toxic drug deaths came up a number of times during the B.C. and federal governments’ news conference Monday.

Officials note data is going to be gathered to look at any connection between decriminalization and deaths caused by illicit substances.

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