Residents of Canada’s British Columbia caught with small amounts of drugs like cocaine, meth, and ecstasy (MDMA) won’t face criminal charges or have their drugs confiscated as part of a new three-year trial program in the province.
The move comes after province authorities appealed to Canada’s federal government for a drug exemption in November following a deadly surge in overdoses last year.
The drugs will still be illegal, but those found to be in possession of 2.5 grams or less will be steered to resources in health and social services rather than arrested and charged.
In its request to the federal government last year, British Columbia said it asked for the drug laws exemption in order “to remove the shame that often prevents people from reaching out for life-saving help.”
The program will run from January 31, 2023 to January 31, 2026. There are some exemptions to the scheme, which will not apply to primary and secondary school grounds, child-care facilities, airports, or to members of Canada’s military.
Program on drugs aimed at “saving lives” in Canada
“We are doing this to save lives, but also to give people using drugs their dignity and choices,” Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of mental health and addictions, said Tuesday.
In 2020, Oregon became the first US state to drop criminal penalties for the possession of some illicit drugs.
The state saw a drop in drug arrests, though there has been debate as to whether it has prompted more drug users to seek help for their substance use.
Canada legalized the use of recreational cannabis for adults nationwide in 2018.