Canada to Decriminalize Small-scale Possession of Illicit Drugs in British Columbia

The Canadian government announced on May 31 that it will decriminalize the possession of small amounts of several illicit drugs in the province of British Columbia (BC).

Canadian Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said at a press conference in Ottawa that the federal government granted a request from the BC provincial government for an exemption from the law criminalizing drug possession.

“We are granting this exemption because our government is committed to using all available tools that reduce stigma, substance use harms, and continuing to work with jurisdictions, to save lives and end this crisis,” Bennett said.

The exemption, which will begin from Jan. 31, 2023, until Jan. 31, 2026, will allow adults in BC to carry 2.5 grams or less of some drugs for personal use without being arrested, charged, or having their drugs seized.

The drugs include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

The governments noted that the exemption is not legalization, and does not apply on the premises of elementary or secondary schools, near child-care facilities, or airports.

The exemption also does not apply to members of the Canadian military.

The exemption is the first of its kind and comes as BC marks five years since declaring the overdose crisis a public health emergency.

BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the exemption “a vital step to keeping people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need.”

In a statement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney criticized the exemption.

“As a neighboring province, the Government of Alberta is alarmed by this announcement to decriminalize and we will be monitoring the situation very closely,” Kenney said.

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