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British Columbia to Decriminalize Opioids, Cocaine, and MDMA

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 09, 2022   
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From next year, Canadians living in the province of British Columbia will be able to possess opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA, the country’s government has announced.

The decriminalization policy is in response to a surge in drug overdose deaths that occurred in the province, particularly within the city of Vancouver, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Around 2,224 people died from illicit drug overdoses in the province in 2021 alone.

Possession without punishment

British Columbia first sought an exemption from the Canadian government to decriminalize drug possession last November. It was the first province in Canada to do so.

“Substance use and addiction is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement at the time.

“B.C. is adding new health and substance-use care services almost weekly, but we know shame prevents many people from accessing life-saving care. That’s why it’s crucial to decriminalize people who use drugs.”

Now, the Canadian government has approved that exemption, which will go into effect on January 31 next year and remain in place for three years until January 31, 2026.

Adults aged 18 and over will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA within British Columbia.

The substances will not become legal – businesses won’t be licensed to sell them, etc. – but people will be able to buy them without fear of arrest.

Police forces in British Columbia will also be required to offer information on available health and social supports to anyone using such drugs and help with referrals when requested.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” Carolyn Bennett, a federal minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement following the exemption approval on May 31.


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