Canadian province decriminalizes drugs to fight overdose deaths
The Canadian province of British Columbia said it was decriminalizing small amounts of some drugs in a bid to tackle the number of drug overdose deaths.
During the three-year pilot program, which began Jan. 31, no one age 18 or older will be charged if in possession of 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs, including heroin, meth, ecstasy and others, for personal use gets caught.
“We know that criminalization drives people to consume alone. With the increasingly toxic drug supply, using it alone can be deadly,” Jennifer Whiteside, BC’s secretary of mental health and addiction, said in a statement Monday. “Decriminalizing people who use drugs reduces the fear and shame associated with drug use and ensures they feel more confident when seeking life-saving supplies. This is an important step in connecting more people to the services and supports the province continues to add at an unprecedented pace.”
According to official figures, at least 2,272 people died from an overdose in the province in 2022. At least 2,306 people died in 2021.
The number of “deaths from illicit drug toxicity” stood at about 6.4 deaths a day in November and December last year, authorities said.
“The shocking number of lives lost to the drug overdose crisis requires bold action and a significant shift in policy. I have thoroughly considered and carefully considered both the public health and public safety implications of this request,” Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister for Mental Health and Addiction, said in a statement. “Eliminating criminal penalties for those who carry small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide British Columbia with another tool to end the overdose crisis.”
While certain drugs are decriminalized, Bennett says the exemption doesn’t mean they’re legal. It means adults will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs confiscated. Instead, police will offer information about available health and social support and help with referrals if requested, officials said.
Possession of drugs will remain a criminal offense on school grounds and in childcare facilities, officials said.
“Decriminalization is an important part of an integrated approach, along with safer public health care and support, to divert drug users away from the criminal justice system and towards health services and care pathways, because drug use is a health issue, not a criminal one.” , Deputy Chief Const. Fiona Wilson, Vancouver Police Department, said in a statement Monday, “This approach has the potential to address harms associated with substance use, reduce stigma, prevent overdose deaths and improve access to health and… to improve social services.”
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