Canada announced Tuesday that it will decriminalize hard drugs in a pilot project in the province of British Columbia that seeks to tackle an opioid crisis that is killing thousands by treating addictions instead of jailing drug users for possession.
Responding to a request from British Columbia, federal Mental Health and Addiction Minister Carolyn Bennett said an exemption to the law allowing possession of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs will go into effect on January 31, 2023. hard, for a period of three years.
Adults in the Pacific Coast province cannot be arrested or face charges for possession of personal doses of up to 2.5 grams of hard drugs, and police cannot confiscate the product.
Instead, users will receive information on how to access medical help for addictions.
“For too many years, ideological opposition to harm reduction has cost lives,” Bennett said at a news conference announcing the pilot program. “We do this to save lives, but also to give drug users their dignity and decision-making,” she declared, adding that it would become “a model for other jurisdictions in Canada.”
Several cities, including Montreal and Toronto, have indicated a desire for similar exemptions.
A small leftist faction in parliament, the New Democratic Party, will also table a bill on Wednesday to decriminalize drug possession across the country, although it is expected to be defeated.
British Columbia thus becomes the second jurisdiction in North America to decriminalize hard drugs, after the US state of Oregon did so in November 2020, offering mitigated results so far, as few people took advantage of addiction treatment, while spending on policing fell.
According to federal government data, 26,690 people died from opioid overdoses in Canada between January 2016 and September 2021. In British Columbia, an estimated six people die every day from opioid-related poisonings. More than 2,200 people died last year, and about 9,400 since the province’s public health chief, Bonnie Henry, declared a public health emergency in 2016.