Facing soaring levels of opioid deaths since the pandemic began in 2020, the Canadian government announced Tuesday it would temporarily decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, in the western province of British Columbia that has been ground zero for the country’s overdoses.
The exemption, granted on Tuesday by Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, will allow drug users to carry up to 2.5 grams total of four listed substances for personal use — opioids, cocaine, methamphetamines, and MDMA, also known as Ecstasy or Molly.
People over the age of 18 found carrying these drugs, at the prescribed amounts and for their personal use, will not be charged, arrested, or have their drugs seized by the police. Instead, interactions with officers will be used as an opportunity to, if the person wishes, be referred to local health and social services.
The exemption will go into effect on Jan. 31, 2023, and will expire after three years.
Opioid deaths in Canada are skyrocketing, no place more than British Columbia, where over 2,200 people died due to suspected illicit-drug overdoses last year — a somber record for the province of 5 million people, which declared drug-related deaths a public health emergency in 2016.
The exemption will not apply in certain settings, including airports, schools, child care centers, aboard Coast Guard vessels or helicopters, or for military members.