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

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

Beginning Tuesday, possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs in BC will no longer be a criminal offense for anyone aged 18 and over.

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

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

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

Which drugs are included in the pilot project?

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

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

Fentanyl and its analogues were detected in nearly 86 percent of drug toxicity deaths from 2019 to 2022, according to the most recent report from the BC Coroners Service.

How long is the pilot?

The Liberation Pilot is scheduled to last for three years, ending January 31, 2026, unless revoked or replaced earlier.

According to 2021 figures from the BC Coroners Service, the majority of illicit drug deaths in all health delivery areas in the province were caused by smoking. Four types of illegal drugs will be decriminalized on January 31st. (Elizabeth Withey/CBC)

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

Does this mean that these drugs can be sold legally?

no Anyone caught selling or dealing drugs is still prosecuted in BC

Dealing in illegal drugs or possessing them for the purpose of trafficking (not for personal use) can land a person in prison.

What else is criminal about drug use?

Possession of illegal drugs in schools, childcare facilities and airports remains illegal.

Several municipalities, including Vancouver, have statutes prohibiting drug use in municipal facilities and private areas such as malls and coffee shops.

“However, adults removed from private facilities would not be prosecuted for their personal possession of up to 2.5 grams of the illegal drugs listed in the exemption,” BC’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction said.

A woman holds up a sign during a protest in May 2021. The decriminalization pilot has been criticized for its low threshold, and supporters say it is unlikely to prevent thousands of people dying from a tainted drug supply. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)How will police enforce the threshold?

It’s unclear how police, starting Tuesday, will determine whether the amount of drugs a person is carrying is below the legal limit.

CBC News has contacted the ministry to find out what orders the police have been given.

Advocates and drug users have said that police discretion in decriminalizing could harm vulnerable drug users. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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

“Instead, they will be offered information about health and social assistance, including local treatment and recovery services if desired,” 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 aimed for a threshold of 4.5 grams.

The federal government lowered the threshold to 2.5 grams when it granted the exemption, citing feedback from law enforcement officials across BC

Addiction Secretary Carolyn Bennett said the threshold was a “starting point” that could be adjusted as needed.

However, drug users have said that both thresholds are far too low considering how most people use substances.

how did we get here

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

More than 10,000 BC residents have died since the state of 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 public health issue rather than a criminal one.

But others – including BC Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe – have said decriminalization will not do much to stop people dying and that only an accessible safe supply of drugs would.

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