British Columbia to decriminalize small amounts of cocaine, heroin

TORONTO — The possession of small amounts of several illicit drugs, including cocaine and opioids such as fentanyl or heroin, will be temporarily decriminalized in British Columbia, the federal government said Tuesday, in what it cast as a “bold” step to “turn the tide” in the province’s overdose crisis.

Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s minister of mental health and addictions, said Ottawa had granted the provincial government’s request for an exemption from the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for three years, starting Jan. 31, 2023.

As of that date, adults 18 and older in Canada’s westernmost province will be allowed to carry a cumulative total of up to 2.5 grams of some drugs for personal use without being arrested or charged, or having their drugs confiscated. The illicit drugs include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

The trafficking, production, exportation and importation of those drugs will remain illegal, as will the possession of any quantity of those drugs at airports, near child-care facilities and primary and secondary schools, or by members of the military.

“This is not legalization,” Bennett told reporters at a news conference in Vancouver. “We have not taken this decision lightly.”

The move, a first in Canada, comes six years after British Columbia declared a public health emergency in response to soaring overdose deaths. Since then, deaths have climbed dramatically. A record 2,236 people died of an overdose in 2021 — up 125 percent from the public health emergency declaration in 2016.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for people ages 19 to 39, according to provincial officials, and the crisis has led to a decline in the life expectancy at birth for men in recent years.

Nationally, nearly 27,000 people have died of an overdose from January 2016 to September 2021.

A growing chorus of people, including the nation’s police chiefs, have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to decriminalize the possession of illicit drugs for personal use, though he had long been noncommittal.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart was among them. He told reporters that every Monday, he receives an email with the number of people who have overdosed in the city and the number who have died. Once, Stewart’s family member was among the statistics. This Monday, he learned there was an agreement on decriminalization.

“I can tell you I felt like crying, and I still feel like crying,” Stewart said. “This is a big, big thing. … It marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs.”

In its submission to Health Canada requesting the exemption, the province said punitive drug polices disproportionately affect marginalized communities and don’t ultimately address what’s a public health issue. It said federal drug laws were having the opposite effect of their intent and making drug overdoses more likely.

Continue reading: WASHINGTONPOST

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