British Columbia will become the first province in Canada to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine after receiving an exemption from federal drug laws.
Effective Jan. 31, 2023, residents of British Columbians 18 and older will be able to carry up to 2.5 grams of these illicit substances without the risk of arrest or criminal charges.
Under rules established by Ottawa and the province, police will not confiscate the drugs, and people found to be in possession will not be required to seek treatment. The production, trafficking and exportation of these drugs will remain illegal.
The province has ramped up its response in recent years to a drug crisis that has killed thousands of people, expanding harm-reduction measures and opening the door to a safer drug supply.
In removing criminal penalties for drug possession, government officials are heeding the calls of drug-policy experts and advocates who say it is a critical step in destigmatizing and meaningfully addressing problematic drug use.
Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett, who made the announcement alongside her B.C. counterpart, Sheila Malcolmson, said the decision was not taken lightly.
“This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada, and with it comes great responsibility for the health, safety and well-being of the people in British Columbia – and a template for other jurisdictions across Canada,” Ms. Bennett said on Tuesday in Vancouver.