Tuesday, May 31, 2022

British Columbia to decriminalize possession of some illegal drugs for personal use

British Columbia's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
outlined how the province will put a three year exemption related
to criminal penalties for some illicit substances for personal use to
work towards their health care programs

The British Columbia government has received a three year exemption to remove criminal penalties for people who possess a small amount of illicit substances for personal use, the shift in the provincial approach towards substance use coming with an announcement today in Vancouver.

In the information release that accompanies today's announcement, it's noted that this exemption will be in effect from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2026, throughout British Columbia. 

The Province will work with a broad range of partners to implement this policy change, including the federal government, health authorities, law enforcement, people with lived and living experience, Indigenous partners and community organizations to establish the public health and public safety indicators in order to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of this exemption in real time. 

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.

Carolyn Bennett, the Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of health outlined how the Federal government views the situation and the need to start towards a new approach.

“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. 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.”

The focus for British Columbia as outlined by Sheila Malcolmson, BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, will be to direct those who use substances to seek out support and services.

“Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one. By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.”

The full presentation that included Minister Malcolmson and  Federal Health Minster Carolyn Bennett, can be reviewed below:

With the window on removal of criminal penalties set to start in January of next year, that will hopefully give the British Columbia Government some time to introduce some of those life saving services and supports to the northwest.

Many officials across the region have long been calling out for more assistance on the issues of substance use, but for the most part  the Northwest has not seen the same level of infrastructure put in place as found in other parts of the province.

There was talk back in 2016 of introducing a health and substance use centre to the Prince Rupert area, but the proposed project of the time didn't move forward as envisioned.

The full announcement of the provincial plan can be explored here.

More notes from the Legislature can be reviewed here.

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