One Canadian province tries out the policy of decriminalising hard drugs
The province of British Columbia in Canada has begun a first-of-its-kind experiment in decriminalising possession of small amounts of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. As of this coming Tuesday, adults are permitted to have up to 2.5 grammes of these substances, along with methamphetamine, fentanyl, and morphine. Canadian federal officials agreed to the west coast province’s request to conduct the three-year trial. Similar legislation is expected to go into effect in the nearby US state of Oregon in 2020.
Officials from both levels of government in British Columbia and the federal government laid out the guidelines for the pilot programme in accordance with the federally approved exemption from the Controlled Substances Act. These drugs will still be illegal, but adults caught with less than 2.5 grammes won’t face arrest or have their drugs taken away. In its place, they will be made aware of community resources for health and social support.
Concerns about euthanasia for the mentally ill are a contentious issue in Canada. On Monday, Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister for mental health and addictions, hailed the decision as “a monumental shift in drug policy that favours fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalization.”
Officials in British Columbia estimate that over 10,000 people have lost their lives to drug overdoses since 2016 when the crisis was declared a public health emergency.
According to Jennifer Whiteside, minister for mental health and addictions in British Columbia, “decriminalising people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports.”
Training on the new regulations has been made available to thousands of police officers across the province, including those in Vancouver. Unless the federal government terminates the programme earlier, it will remain in effect from 31 January 2023 until 31 January 2026.
However, there are those who believe that this limit is too low and that many addicts’ behaviours are not adequately accounted for by it (2.5g). Drug dealing is still prohibited by law. Drug possession is also prohibited in and around educational institutions, daycares, and airports. In 2018, cannabis use was decriminalised across the entire country of Canada. Unlike marijuana, however, the four drugs that are now legal in limited quantities will not be sold legally in stores and instead will remain illegal. Likewise, it is still against the law to smuggle them across national boundaries.