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What you need to know about the decriminalization of possessing illicit drugs in B.C.

Starting Tuesday, it is no longer a criminal offence to possess small amounts of certain illicit drugs in B.C., for people age 18 or above. Here’s what you need to know about the province’s drug decriminalization pilot. 

B.C. granted exemption by federal government in November 2022; pilot will run until 2026.

A man wearing a mask around his chin holds up three boxes, styled like cigarette cartons. They are marked 'Meth', 'Cocaine' and 'Heroin'. The man is surrounded by other people.

Starting Tuesday, it is no longer a criminal offence to possess small amounts of certain illicit drugs in B.C., for people age 18 or above.

It’s part of a three-year pilot by the federal government, which granted B.C. an exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) on May 31, 2022.

While advocates for drug users say decriminalization alone won’t stop thousands of people dying from a tainted drug supply, others say it is a step in the right direction when it comes to how drug users are treated.

Here’s what you need to know about B.C.’s drug decriminalization pilot.

Which drugs are included in the pilot?

Under the exemption, up to 2.5 grams of the following four drug types can be legally possessed:

  • Cocaine (crack and powder).
  • Methamphetamine.
  • MDMA.
  • Opioids (including heroin, fentanyl and morphine).

Fentanyl and its analogues were detected in nearly 86 per cent of drug toxicity deaths from 2019 until 2022, according to the latest report from the B.C. Coroners Service.

How long will the pilot last?

The exemption pilot is set to last for three years until Jan. 31, 2026 unless it is revoked or replaced before then.

A person holds up a piece of aluminum foil with a brown substance on it, along with a lighter and a small pipe.

A Health Canada spokesperson said the federal government will monitor the pilot throughout its duration to gauge its effectiveness.

Does this mean those drugs can be sold legally?

No. Anyone caught selling drugs or trafficking them will still face criminal penalties in B.C.

Trafficking illegal drugs, or possessing them for the sake of trafficking (not for personal use), could land a person in prison.

What is still criminal when it comes to drug use?

Possessing illegal drugs at schools, child care facilities and airports remains illegal.

Multiple municipalities, including Vancouver, have bylaws that prohibit drug use at city facilities and private areas like malls or cafes.

“However, adults removed from private establishments would not be subject to federal criminal charges for their personal possession of up to 2.5 grams of the illegal drugs listed in the exemption,” the B.C. ministry of mental health and addictions said.

A woman wearing a mask holds up a sign that reads 'For decrim to work, we need a safe supply'. She is at the head of a row of people marching on a street.

How will the police enforce the threshold?

It’s unclear exactly how police will determine whether the amount of drugs a person is carrying is under the legal threshold starting Tuesday.

CBC News has reached out to the ministry to find out what instructions have been given to police.

Protesters march past a police officer with a trojan horse bearing a photograph of Vancouver police chief Adam Palmer.

The government says police will not seize any drugs they find on an adult.

“Instead, they will be offered information about health and social supports, including local treatment and recovery services, if requested,” the government said in a statement.

Why 2.5 grams?

When the province first applied for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in November 2021, it sought a threshold of 4.5 grams.

The federal government lowered the threshold to 2.5 grams when they granted the exemption, citing feedback from law enforcement officials across B.C.

Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said the threshold was a “starting point” that can be adjusted as needed.

However, drug users have said both thresholds were far too low given how most people consume substances.

How did we get here?

When B.C. first applied for the exemption in 2021, it was five years after a public health emergency was declared due to the spike in fatal overdoses resulting from a poisoned drug supply.

More than 10,000 B.C. residents have died since the emergency was declared in 2016.

Politicians and advocates have argued that decriminalizing drug use would remove the stigma associated with it, and treat the crisis as a health issue rather than a criminal one.

However, others — including B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe — have said that decriminalization won’t do much to stop people dying, and that only an accessible safe supply of drugs would do so.


Akshay Kulkarni is a journalist who has worked at CBC British Columbia since 2021. Based in Vancouver, he has covered breaking news, and written features about the pandemic and toxic drug crisis. He is most interested in data-driven stories. You can email him at akshay.kulkarni@cbc.ca.

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub and Christian Paas-Lang

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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