Canada Takes Bold Step to 'Remove the Shame' on Drugs

Small amounts of 'hard' drugs to be temporarily decriminalized in British Columbia to fight ODs
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 1, 2022 8:11 AM CDT
Canada's Drug Law Trial Picks 'Health Care Over Handcuffs'
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/DedMityay)

If you're busted in British Columbia with a small amount of hard drugs, you could soon see some grace, thanks to an innovative new program designed to deal with the OD crisis. The BBC reports that, starting at the end of January, drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), and opioids such as heroin and fentanyl will be decriminalized in British Columbia, a three-year trial said to be the first of its kind in Canada. That doesn't mean that such drugs are now legal—rather, it simply means that individuals 18 and older can possess up to 2.5 grams of them without fear of being arrested, charged, or having the drugs yanked. Instead, they'll receive information on health and social services available to them.

The BC government requested the move last fall, noting it would "remove the shame" and stigma that keeps people from asking for help amid what it's deemed a public health emergency. More than 9,000 people have died of overdoses in the province over the past six years, while upward of 26,000 people across all of Canada suffered fatal opioid ODs between 2016 and 2021, per the National Post. There are exceptions to the program—it won't apply to possession of said drugs at airports, in the military, or near child care sites or primary and secondary schools—and production, trafficking, and exports/imports could still bring charges, reports the Washington Post.

But in terms of most individuals in the province, it flips the approach on dealing with possible addictions. "Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one," says Sheila Malcolmson, BC's minister of mental health and addictions, per the National Post. The province also noted during its initial exemption request in November that harsher drug policies end up targeting marginalized communities disproportionately. It's a "fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs," notes Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, per the BBC. The program will run from Jan. 31, 2023, through Jan. 31, 2026. (Read more Canada stories.)

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