The Canadian government on Tuesday announced temporary decriminalization of possession of small amounts of illegal drugs in British Columbia as the province grapples with the nation’s highest rate of overdose deaths, the New York Times reports. The policy covers possession of up to 2.5 grams total of opioids, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine.
The reforms will take effect on January 31, 2023, and will remain in place for three years. They will not apply in airports, schools, childcare centers, aboard Coast Guard vessels or helicopters, or for military members, the report says.
British Columbia declared drug-related deaths a public health emergency in 2016 and, since the pandemic, opioid use in the province caused a record 2,224 deaths in 2021, compared to 1,767 in 2020. The rate is one of the highest per capita in North America, the report says.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, issued a report in 2018 calling for broad drug decriminalization and said during a press conference that at the time, “there was not a lot of support for it, at any level.”
The reforms are backed by police associations, families of individuals that have died from drug overdoses, peer support workers, and the province’s chief coroner, but some have called for the policy to be expanded nationally and to allow larger possession limits. Under the policy, individuals over 18 found carrying the four drugs will not be charged, arrested, or have their drugs seized; instead, police will ask if the person would like to be referred to health and social services.
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