The Liberal government announced British Columbia will have an exemption to decriminalize small amounts of hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, starting in 2023
“For far too long, this wave of loss has been a reality in British Columbia and across the country,” said Bennett.
“Today, we take the first steps in the much needed bold action and significant policy change.”
The exemption will begin Jan. 31, 2023, and run until Jan. 31, 2026, a three year trial period.
According to the government, Canadians 18 years of age or older will be able to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, methamphetamines, MDMA and opioids while not being subjected to arrest or have their drugs seized.
Bennett’s counterpart in British Columbia, NDP minister Sheila Malcomson, praised the federal government’s decision.
“The fear of being criminalized has led many people to hide their addiction and use drugs alone,” she said. “And using drugs alone can mean dying alone, particularly in this climate of tragically increased illicit drug toxicity.”
Under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, the federal government can issue such exemptions if it’s “necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest”
B.C. government has been requesting the federal government to decriminalize simple possession for a number of years. Originally the B.C. government was asking to exempt possession of up to 4.5 grams of illicit substances.
According to Health Canada, they consulted with health and law enforcement experts before coming to this decision. The trial will also be subject to third-party monitoring
Bennett also announced British Columbia will receive $11.78 million in funding for substance abuse and addictions programs.
While the possession of up to 2.5 gram will not be a criminal offence it will still be illegal to product and traffic the illicit drugs. Although the decriminalization for possession doesn’t apply on the premises of schools, airports or other facilities.
Gord Johns, federal NDP harm reduction critic, said the Liberal government should pursue a national decriminalization strategy rather than a piecemeal approach across the country.
On Wednesday, Johns will introduce a private member’s bill to establish a national strategy for decriminalizing simple possession and expunging criminal records for that offence. Bennett stated on Tuesday that she will not support the bill.
In 2021, there were 2,224 suspected overdose deaths in British Columbia as a result of toxic illicit substances. In comparison, during the same time period, the province recorded 1,522 Covid deaths.