What is decriminalization?
Decriminalization represents a shift from a criminal justice response to one of a public health response to address substance use and the ongoing toxic drug epidemic. It is a form of harm reduction aimed at reducing the harm that arises from using drugs.
What does decriminalization look like?
As of January 31, 2023, British Columbia is implementing decriminalization with the support of the federal government as a 3-year pilot until January 31, 2026.
Adults (18 years and older) in BC will not be arrested, charged, or have your drugs confiscated for possessing 2.5 grams of certain drugs for personal use. The trafficking or dealing of these substances remains illegal. The total amount of illegal drug(s) must be equal to or less than 2.5 grams (cumulative of all drugs).
The drugs covered under this exemption are:
- Opioids (not all opioids are covered)
- Cocaine (including crack and powder cocaine)
- Methamphetamine (meth)
- MDMA (ecstasy, molly)
What does this mean for you?
This change is not legalization, meaning there will not be a government regulated supply of these substances and the drug supply remains toxic. In light of this, it is important to still access and practice harm reduction measures like drug checking, using clean supplies, carrying naloxone, not using alone, and much more.
This form of decriminalization is not perfect or without critique. The change signals that governments are paying attention and want to reduce the harms that are experienced by people who use drugs.
What remains criminal?
- Possessing more than 2.5 grams of these illegal drugs
- Any amount of drugs not included in the exemption
- Traveling outside of British Columbia with any amount of these drugs
Adults found in possession of any amount of illegal drugs in these locations could be charged with a criminal offence:
- On the premises of elementary and secondary schools and licensed child-care facilities
- At airports
- On Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters
In many cases, illegal drug use will continue to be prohibited on private property. Police will retain legal authority to remove people from these premises under the authority of the Trespass Act if open drug use is occurring against the wishes of the owner.
However, adults removed from private property would not be subject to federal criminal charges for their personal possession of up to 2.5 grams of the illegal drugs listed in the exemption.
UBC Okanagan has not yet made any policy changes, but we will keep you updated as things changed. If you have any questions, do pop by and talk to our HaRT team!