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Canadian Government Approves Three-Year Drug Decriminalization Period in British Columbia

‘Substance use is a public health issue that is shaped by complex factors,’ said the minister of mental health and addictions

The federal government of Canada signed off a test period where the possession of small amounts of drugs will be decriminalized in one province.

Officials are hopeful that the move will reduce the number of overdose death because drug users will not fear seeking help from law enforcement.

For three years beginning on Jan. 31, 2023, individuals in British Columbia in possession of up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs that are intended for personal use will not be charged or prosecuted. The exemption does not extend to drug users under the age of 18 nor does it legalize the drugs, which include opioids, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

British Columbia’s government had initially requested the limit be set at 4.5 grams. The western province’s minister of mental health Shelia Malcolmson said addicts and drug users will take illicit substances secretly out of fear of legal consequences.

“Using alone can mean dying alone, particularly in this climate of tragically increased illicit drug toxicity,” Malcolmson said, per AP News. She estimates that five to seven people die in British Columbia each day due to overdoses.

The decriminalization trial is the first of its kind in Canada. 

“Collectively, we must recognize that substance use is a public health issue that is shaped by complex factors, many of which can be beyond an individual’s control,” said the federal minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett in an announcement regarding the policy change. “These ‘root causes’ include experiences of trauma; physical and mental health; income and access to stable housing; and the ongoing effects of colonization and the residential school system on First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.”

I assure you that real-time adjustments will be made based upon receipt and analysis of any concerning data,” added Bennett.

The official simultaneously announced that $11.78 million in federal funding had been secured for 14 projects in British Columbia that would focus on prevention, treatment efforts, and harm reduction through Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program.

“I’m encouraged about an important step that is being taken to help save lives,” tweeted Dr. Therea Tam, the nation’s Chief Public Health Officer. “Stigma and fear of criminalization cause some people to hide their drug use, use alone, or use in other ways that increase the risk of harm. This is why the Gov of CA treats substance use as a health issue, not a criminal one.”

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