‘Health care on handcuffs’: BC first to reduce simple drug possession

The federal government has announced that beginning next year, British Columbia will be the first province in Canada to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs in small quantities for personal use.

The decision comes after the B.C. government requested an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which makes it a crime to possess most illegal substances, even in small quantities.

Beginning January 31, 2023, BC adults will not be found subject to arrest or charges for carrying up to 2.5 grams of certain drugs, including opioids, cocaine and methamphetamine, and the drugs will not be confiscated.

Instead, the police will provide information about available services and, if requested, provide assistance in connecting to those services.

“Reducing simple possession of drugs is a historic, brave and important step in the fight to save lives. It marks a fundamental re-thinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart Told.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has long been an advocate of de-criminalisation.

“Today is a very important day. It’s hard to believe that we’ve actually gotten here,” Henry said.

While the right to personal use law was rarely enforced by police, Henry says the exemption is less about legal consequences, not about reducing stigma and shame about illegal drug use.

“Because of the risk of things like being a delinquent, losing their job, not being able to get an apartment, not being able to travel, losing their kids, it makes them talk to their family and friends about their drug use. And it prevents them from accessing the services,” Henry said.

B.C.’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, said the stigma and secrecy about substance abuse kills. “Shame and fear keep people from accessing the care they need, and the fear of being criminalized has led many people to hide their addiction and use drugs alone. And using alone can mean dying alone. could,” she said.

The province had asked the government to exempt 4.5 grams of personal use. Leslie McBain, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, worries the cumulative 2.5 grams of illicit drugs that would be allowed is not enough for some addicts who use more than that per day.

“The more often you have to use this illegal supply, the more likely you are to have an overdose or to die. So 2.5 grams isn’t practical, it’s not what people who use drugs need to hear.” needed,” McBain said.

He agrees that this would reduce the stigma about drug use. But McBain believes the key to reducing deaths is a secure, regulated supply.

“It’s a step to get there, but in itself it won’t save lives,” said McBain, who lost his son Jordan to an overdose in 2014. Illegal drugs have become much more lethal since then. “We are losing our loved ones at rates that are almost beyond belief,” she said.

The personal use exemption applies to all adults 18 years of age and older within the jurisdiction of BC, except on primary and secondary school grounds, on premises of licensed child care households, in airports, and on Canadian Coast Guard ships. And on helicopters.

Health Canada says the BC province will use the eight months until the start of the waiver to talk to affected groups and train law enforcement.

Possession for the purpose of smuggling, producing or exporting any drug listed under the exemption is still illegal, no matter the amount.

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