Cocaine, MDMA, Meth and Opioids to Be Decriminalised in Canadian Province

The three-year experiment in British Columbia is the latest progressive measure to combat record drug deaths.
Max Daly
London, GB
Screen Shot 2022-06-01 at 15
Photo: Manisha Krishnan

A province in Canada will decriminalise the possession of small amounts of cocaine, MDMA, meth, heroin and fentanyl.

British Columbia will become the first province in Canada to decriminalise drugs in a three-year experiment starting in January next year. People over 18 will be able to carry up to 2.5 grams of drugs without fear of arrest, being sent for treatment or the drugs being confiscated. 

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The sale and production, distribution and trafficking of these drugs will still be illegal, and the new rules will not apply in schools or airports or to the armed forces.  

The move is one of a number of harm reduction measures – including safer supply of opioids for addicted drug users and drug checking services – introduced in the west coast province to combat a drug overdose crisis that last year killed more than 2,000 people. British Columbia has the highest rates of drug deaths in Canada and is by far the most progressive province on drug law reform, with strong drug activism.   

It follows Oregon’s move to decriminalise low-level drug possession in 2020, although that policy does include fines. 

Officials hope that by removing penalties for drug possession, it will reduce stigma, make it easier for drug users to seek help from the authorities, avoid damaging prison sentences and reduce the impact on non-white communities who are more likely to be targeted for drugs offences.   

However, drug user advocates say the 2.5-gram limit is too low and will result in too many people still being criminalised for their drug use. Others criticised the seven-month lag time before the policy kicks in; six people in B.C. die of a drug overdose every day.

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If the experiment works, it could be expanded across Canada. While B.C. is the epicentre of the overdose crisis in Canada and generally has the most progressive drug laws, other regions are also pushing for decriminalisation, including the country’s largest city, Toronto. 

The Mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, said the decision marked “a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favours healthcare over handcuffs".

Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett said: "We are doing this to save lives, but also to give people using drugs their dignity and choices.”