Opioid-related deaths linked to fentanyl have more than doubled in Canada over the last five years. British Columbia has been one the hardest-hit regions, with deaths spiking during the Pandemic, and has asked for federal permission to decriminalize drugs.
The government is now launching an experimental program in the western province of British Columbia to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs. These include opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Saving, not punishing
Traditional criminalizing methods of handling drug use have not reduced drug-related deaths, just the opposite. Starting in January 2023, Canada will try this new healthcare-focused approach.
“By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services,” said Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s minister of mental health and addictions.
This new policy will apply to individuals over 18 in possession of 2.5 grams or less of illegal drugs. This is the latest policy in a Canadian trend of moving toward health care to handle this drug epidemic. It has set up controlled injection sites for those addicted to drugs and provided tests to check drugs for fentanyl. It has even made prescription heroin available to those for whom other treatments have failed. This newest initiative is a simple fix for individuals who might not seek medical attention for overdoses for fear of being arrested.
“We are granting this exemption because our government is committed to using all available tools that reduce stigma, substance use harms, and continuing to work with jurisdictions, to save lives and end this crisis,” said Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s federal minister of mental health and addictions.
In 2020, Oregon passed a similar policy that decriminalized small amounts of illegal drugs but was not supported by the federal government. Portugal similarly decriminalized drugs in 2001 and saw an incredible drop in both drug use and transmission of diseases.