Drug decriminalization OK'd in British Columbia for 3 years

Officials hope a three-year experiment will reduce overdose deaths


By Suzie Ziegler 

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — British Columbia will now be allowed to decriminalize drug possession for three years as an experiment to reduce overdose deaths, ABC News reported on Tuesday. Officials hope those with addictions will be more inclined to seek help without the fear of arrest, the report said. 

The new policy will decriminalize possession of hard drugs up to 2.5 grams when it goes into effect Jan. 31, 2023. Those drugs include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. Instead of arresting users, police will now offer information on social support and health resources upon request, according to a press release from British Columbia’s government. Police will not confiscate the drugs, nor will people be required to seek treatment, reported The Globe and Mail. It will still be illegal to produce, sell or export hard drugs. 

Some Canadian law enforcement leaders voiced support for the change. 

Del Manak, the police chief in Victoria, British Columbia, believes the new law will "reduce stigmatization, direct individuals to a pathway of health and avoid the criminalization of persons who use drugs,” according to CTV News

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The move was also lauded by many Canadian health officials. 

“Stigma and fear of criminalization cause some people to hide their drug use, use alone or use in other ways that increase the risk of harm,” tweeted Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “This is why the Government of Canada treats substance use as a health issue, not a criminal one.” 

The new policy also has its share of skeptics, including drug reform activists who say decriminalization won’t make laced drugs safer. 

“It’s not going to stop anybody dying of an overdose or drug poisoning,” activist Dana Larsen told ABC News. “The drugs are still going to be contaminated.” 

Nearly 10,000 people have died from drug overdoses in British Columbia since 2016, according to The Globe and Mail. 

British Columbia is the first Canadian province to apply for an exemption from the country’s drug laws, according to the report. In 2020, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs. 

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