Canadian province to decriminalise cocaine, opioids and ecstasy

Vancouver, British Columbia: Canada’s government announced it will allow the province of British Columbia to try a three-year experiment in decriminalising possession of small amounts of drugs, hoping it will ease the fear of arrest by those who need help and stem a record number of overdose deaths.

The policy approved by federal officials doesn’t legalise the substances, but Canadians in the Pacific coast province who possess up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs – of any combination – for personal use will not be arrested or charged.

Cocaine, for personal use, will be temporarily decriminalised next years in British Columbia. Credit:iStock

The three-year exemption effective next year from January 31 will apply to drug users 18 and over and include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

“Stigma and fear of criminalisation cause some people to hide their drug use, use alone, or use in other ways that increase the risk of harm. This is why the Government of Canada treats substance use as a health issue, not a criminal one,” tweeted Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

The province’s health officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, said that with the policy, “we are taking an important step forward to removing that fear and shame and stigma”.

“This is not one single thing that will reverse this crisis but it will make a difference,” she added.

Paramedics respond to a drug overdose in downtown Vancouver last year.Credit:AP

British Columbia is the first Canadian province to apply for an exemption from Canada’s drug laws

Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of mental health and addictions, said it could serve as a template for other jurisdictions across Canada.

“This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada,” she said. “Real-time adjustments will be made upon receiving analysis of any data that indicates a need to change.”

Bennett said they are doing it to save lives. “For too many years the ideological opposition to harm reduction has cost lives,” she said.

The rule change will exempt Canadians “if they are in possession of an illegal substance…or any combination of such illegal substances, up to a maximum cumulative quantity of 2.5 grams.”

Since 2016 there have been over 9400 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in the province and a record 2224 last year.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he gets emails every Monday on drug deaths, including nine last week and 12 the week before. He said one week it was his own family member.

“I felt like crying, and I still feel like crying. This is a big, big thing,” Stewart said.

He said the exemption from Canada’s drug laws is just the start.

The allowable amount of illegal substances falls short of the 4.5 grams requested by British Columbia, and was already deemed too low a threshold by some drug-user groups that have criticised the province for failing to adequately consult them.

Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s minister of mental health, said the fear of being criminalised has led many people to hide their addiction and use drugs alone.

“Using alone can mean dying alone, particularly in this climate of tragically increased illicit drug toxicity,” Malcolmson said.

Malcolmson said the coroner in British Columbia reports that between five and seven people die a day in the province from overdoses and that half of those happen in a private home, often when people are alone. “Fear and shame keeps drug use a secret,” she said.

Oregon voters approved a ballot measure in 2020 to decriminalise hard drugs after being told it was a way to establish and fund addiction recovery centres that would offer people aid instead of incarceration. Yet in the first year after the new approach took effect in February 2021, only 1 per cent of people who received citations for possessing controlled substances asked for help via a new hotline.

With Oregon being the first state in America to decriminalise possession of personal-use amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and other drugs, its program is being watched as a potential model for other states.

Under Ballot Measure 110, possession of controlled substances is now a newly created Class E “violation,” instead of a felony or misdemeanour. It carries a maximum $US100 fine, which can be waived if the person calls a hotline for a health assessment. The call can lead to addiction counselling and other services.

AP

Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article