British Columbia, one of Canada's largest provinces, approved a plan to decriminalize several potentially deadly drugs.
The program makes the province the first in the country to approve the use and possession of some drugs in people over 18 years of age. That is, from now on, young people will be able to carry up to 2.5 grams of illicit substances without legal restrictions: they will not be arrested, charged, or have the drugs seized. Instead, they will be offered information on available health and social services.
As of Jan. 31, 2023, adults aged 18+ in BC who possess 2.5g or less of certain illegal drugs for personal use will not face criminal charges. BC will be the 1st province to take this step to treat addiction as a health issue, not a criminal justice one. https://t.co/jAa8Ehmcqt pic.twitter.com/0yMqnvvp6k
- BC Government News (@BCGovNews) January 26, 2023
Lethal doses of approved drugs
"Adults (over the age of 18) in BC will not be arrested or charged for possessing small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use. The illegal drugs covered by the exemption are: opioids (such as heroin, morphine and fentanyl), crack and powder cocaine, Methamphetamine (Meth), MDMA (Ecstasy)," the statement said.
The approved drugs are potentially lethal and only a small dose of some of them could kill a human being:
- Lethal dose of fentanyl: 2 mg.
- Cocaine: between 0.5 and 1.5g (each dose usually has 15 to 25 mg).
-Crack: 0.5 and 1.5g.
- Heroin: 2g.
- Morphine: between 1.2g and 2g.
- Methamphetamine: between 0.5g and 2g.
- Ecstasy: between 0.5g and 2g.
A social experiment
Canada's federal government backed the West Coast province's application to test what they called a three-year experiment. The program will initially run from January 31, 2023 to January 31, 2026.
The government states that the purpose of the experiment is to help "reduce barriers and stigma that prevent people from accessing vital supports and services." "Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue."
Decriminalization of persons possessing certain illegal drugs for personal use is a critical step in BC's fight against the intoxicating drug crisis.
Prior to the launch of the pilot program, federal and local officials outlined the rules under the exemption made in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:
- You may not possess a combined total of more than 2.5 grams of these illegal drugs.
- The sale of drugs remains illegal.
- It is illegal to possess drugs on the grounds of schools, daycare centers and airports.
- It is not legal to possess drugs on Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters.
Some drugs such as cannabis are already legal in Canada. The country approved its recreational use in adults in 2018.
Advocates and critics
Proponents of the plan hope it will address the spike in overdose deaths that has left 10,000 dead in B.C. since 2016. In that year, the country declared drug-related deaths a public health emergency.
Canada's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, said the move is a "monumental shift in drug policy that favors fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalization."
Instead, some critics claim that the plan is not enough, and that 2.5 grams is a threshold that will not make a difference for users who consume large quantities of drugs. Chuck Doucette, president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, said that "facilitating drug use for them is like palliative care."
It simply condemns them to a slow death because of drugs, whereas if you get them off drugs, you give them back their life, they can enjoy life.