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BC to decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs for three years

Starting on January 31st, 2023, a three-year exemption will take effect that will decriminalize small amounts of certain illicit substances.

That includes opioids (including heroin, morphine, fentanyl, and others), cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

The exemption has been granted under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. (CDSA)

“The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change. I have thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered both the public health and public safety impacts of this request,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.

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“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.”

BC is the first province in Canada to receive an exemption from Health Canada under subsection 56(1) of the CDSA so that adults are not subject to criminal charges for the personal possession of illegal drugs.

The province says this exemption is not legalization. These substances remain illegal, but adults who have 2.5 grams or less of the certain illicit substances for personal use will no longer be arrested, charged, or have their drugs seized.

Instead, police will offer information on available health and social supports and will help with referrals when requested.

The exemption will not apply on elementary and secondary school premises, premises of licensed child care facilities, airports, or on Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters.

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Unless otherwise authorized, any quantity of the illegal drugs listed in the exemption, in any amount, cannot be:

  • imported or exported
  • taken across a domestic or international border, even if for personal use
  • produced
  • in your possession for purposes other than personal use
  • trafficked.

“This exemption is a vital step to keeping people alive and help connect them with the health and social support they need,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“By removing the fear and shame of drug use, we will be able to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing harm reduction services and treatment programs.”

Together, the federal and provincial governments will work closely to evaluate and monitor the implementation of the exemption, to address any unintended consequences and to be the right decision for the people of BC.

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