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Canada's British Columbia To Temporarily Decriminalize Some Drug Possession To Tackle Abuse Problem

INTERNATIONAL:  Canada will temporarily decriminalize the possession of some illegal drugs like cocaine, MDMA and opioids for personal use by adults in British Columbia (B.C.) to help tackle a burgeoning drug abuse problem in the province, the government said on Tuesday (May 31).

The substances would remain illegal, but adults found in possession of up to 2.5 grams of the illicit substances will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized, according to an official statement.

B.C., Canada's westernmost province and the epicenter of the country's overdose crisis, had requested the federal government for such an exemption in November.

The exemption, a first in Canada, is intended to reduce the stigma associated with substance use and make it easier for people to approach law enforcement and other authorities to seek guidance.

The exemption will be in effect from Jan. 31, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2026, and police will offer information on available health and social supports instead of punishing those found in possession of small amounts of exempt drugs.

The federal government will work with the province to analyze the exemption and may make real-time adjustments if changes are required, said federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett.

The exemption would not apply to airports, schools and members of the Canadian military.

Over 26,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses roughly between 2016 and 2021 across Canada. Since 2016 in B.C., when the province declared a public health emergency, over 9,400 deaths have been recorded due to overdose.

  Canada's Minister Of Mental Health And Addictions Carolyn Bennett, Said:

"Since 2016, there have been over 9400 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs. In 2021 alone, more than 2200 lives were lost in this province. Thousands of families' support networks are experiencing this grief, some of whom have lost multiple loved ones. Despite the best efforts in increasing harm reduction, the crisis has worsened. The increasingly toxic illicit drug supply has exacerbated the already heartbreaking loss of life."

"After thoroughly reviewing this exemption request and carefully considering the public health and public safety impacts, today I am here to announce that I will be granting British Columbia's exemption request. As of January 31st, 2023 adults 18 and over in British Columbia will no longer be subject to criminal charges for the possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use, and the drugs will not be confiscated."

   "This is not legalization. We have not taken this decision lightly. We have been working with the province over the past months to ensure that their final application was able to meet the criteria necessary for Canada to be able to grant a province-wide Section 56 exemption to the Canadian Drug and Substances Act. This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada, and with it comes great responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of the people in British Columbia and a template for other jurisdictions across Canada. As part of the exemption request, the B.C. government is committed to a comprehensive implementation plan to ensure risk mitigation and support of full range of resources and services for people who use drugs."

Canadian Member Of Parliament For Courtenay-Alberni, British Columbia, Gord Johns, Said:

"The Liberal government has finally approved British Columbia's request to decriminalize simple possession of controlled substances after dragging its feet for months. This is an important step to stop the harms of failed drug policy. But we're dealing with a national crisis.

There are thousands of families burying their loved ones outside of B.C.. Provincial and local governments shouldn't have to fill the void of federal leadership. Lives are at stake. A patchwork approach is completely irresponsible. Will this government save lives by supporting my bill tomorrow for a national health-based approach to substance use?"

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Said:

"Our government recognizes that problematic substance use is a public health issue and we are working with partners to advance a multifaceted, health-based strategy to end the overdose and toxic drug supply crisis. That is why we've approved the B.C. proposal to decriminalize personal possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs within the province. There is, of course, more to do, and we are taking action with a range of provinces and territories as well as other partners to end this ongoing tragedy. We know that we need to move forward on proper support and that's what we're doing with B.C. and we look forward to talking with other provinces about that as well."



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