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Canadian Province of British Columbia Decriminalises Small Amount of Hard Drugs

Amount of Hard Drug

Canadian Province of British Columbia Decriminalises Small

Amount of Hard Drugs such as Heroin and Cocaine

The Province is taking a critical step to end the shame and stigma that prevents

people with substance-use challenges from reaching out for life-saving help as

British Columbia’s decriminalization of people who use drugs comes into effect on

Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

Health Canada granted the Province of B.C. a sub-section 56(1) exemption under

the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize people who use drugs.

Beginning Jan. 31, 2023, until Jan. 31, 2026, adults (18 and older) in B.C. will not

be subject to criminal charges if they possess a small amount of certain illegal drugs

for personal use.

“We know criminalization drives people to use alone. Given the increasingly toxic

drug supply, using alone can be fatal,” said Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s Minister of

Mental Health and Addictions. “Decriminalizing 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. This is a vital step to get more people

connected to the services and supports as the Province continues to add them at an

unprecedented rate.”

This exemption does not mean drugs are legalized. The drugs included in the

exemption remain illegal; however, adults who are found in possession of a

cumulative total of as much as 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine

and MDMA for personal use will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs

seized, if abiding by the scope and conditions of the exemption. Instead, police will

offer information on available health and social supports, as well as local treatment

and recovery options.

“Every day, we are losing lives to overdoses from the increasingly toxic illegal drug

supply. We are committed to stopping this tragic epidemic with bold action and

significant policy change,” said Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health

and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. “By supporting British Columbia in this exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, our government is

providing the Province with the ability to help divert people away from the criminal

justice system and toward the health and social services they need. We look forward

to continuous collaboration with the Province to measure the public-health and

public-safety outcomes, help save lives and bring an end to this crisis.”

To prepare for January 31st, the Province has worked with police leaders to

develop training resources and practical guidance, which are now available to more

than 9,000 front-line police officers. In addition, the Province is building new

pathways into the health-care system by hiring health authority specific positions

dedicated to building connections with local service providers and people referred

by police. These positions will also help connect people with resources and

information on voluntary mental-health and addictions supports in their own


Drug possession in any amount will continue to be a criminal offence on K-12 school

grounds and at licensed child care facilities. Further, decriminalization does not

apply to youth 17 and younger. Youth found in possession of any amount of illegal

drugs are subject to the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, which offers them

alternatives to criminal charges in some cases. Together, the federal and provincial

governments will be working closely to evaluate and monitor the exemption to

ensure the desired outcomes of decriminalization are met and there are no

unintended consequences.

This exemption is just one tool in the Province’s toolbox in the fight against the

toxic drug crisis. In addition, the B.C. government has been urgently working to

build a comprehensive and seamless system of mental-health and addictions care

that works for all British Columbians. This includes adding hundreds of new

treatment beds and increasing access to harm-reduction programs, such as

supervised consumption sites, safer supply and naloxone.

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