VANCOUVER, Jan 31 (Reuters) – The western Canadian province of British Columbia on Tuesday launched a three-year pilot program to end prosecution of people for carrying small amounts of heroin, meth, ecstasy or crack cocaine as part of the fight effort and drug overdose crisis .
As of 2016, BC is responsible for about a third of the 32,000 overdose and human trafficking deaths, according to official figures. The province declared a drug overdose a public health emergency earlier this year.
The problem worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted illicit drug supply chains and support services, leaving people with more toxic drugs than they were using alone.
Preliminary data released by the province on Tuesday showed there were 2,272 suspected deaths from illicit drug toxicity in 2022, the second-highest annual number on record after 2021, which saw 34 more deaths.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said in May it would Let BC decriminalize drugs in a first-of-its-kind exemption in Canada. By not prosecuting people who carry small amounts of drugs, the BC government hopes to address the problem as a public health issue rather than through the criminal justice system.
Watch 2 more stories
The province says the exemption aims to reduce the stigma associated with drug use and make it easier for people to contact authorities for advice.
Robert Schwartz, a professor at the University of Toronto, said the measure was commendable as a first step, but more needed to be done to address the drug problem.
“The problem we have with these substances is that we have a huge, illegal supply that is doing a lot of harm,” Schwartz said. “To really deal with this, we need a comprehensive public health approach. This decriminalization is a first step.”
The drugs on the exemption list, which also includes fentanyl and other opioids, remain illegal and the exemption from confinement only applies to possession of up to 2.5 grams for personal use.
“For many years we have had a de facto policy of not arresting people for personal drug possession,” but this change will result in fewer seizures of small quantities of drugs, a Vancouver Police Department spokesman said.
Other Canadian communities are closely watching the pilot. They are also facing an increase in drug overdose deaths.
Many health experts argue that decriminalization would encourage drug users to take them in safer spaces where they have access to medical care.
Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto Editing by Deepa Babington
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Leave a Comment