Canada is decriminalizing small amounts of opioids, cocaine, MDMA, and meth

British Columbia will conduct a three-year test that could be major step for drug safety.

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - MAY 03: Tyler Dixon, 26, left, of Abbotsford, and Kim Baptiste, 45, of...
Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Canada is taking a huge next step toward drug safety. This week, the province of British Columbia received approval from Canada’s federal government to proceed with a three-year experiment in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs. This legislation comes after local research connected record numbers of overdoses to fear of arrest by folks in need of medical care or sobriety resources.

The new policy, which goes into effect in January 2023, doesn’t legalize drugs, but it does mean people over the age of 18 will be legally allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of certain substances without being subjected to arrest, confiscation, or fines. The three-year test will cover substances such as opioids, cocaine, MDMA, and methamphetamine.

“BC is taking the next steps toward decriminalizing small amounts of certain illicit drugs for personal use so that we can reduce the fear and shame associated with drug use – making it clear that substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s minister of mental health tweeted, alongside infographics summarizing common facts and myths surrounding drug decriminalization.

Among the myths included in her post is the notion that such measures enable drug use; in reality, as the post notes, “Shame and fear can make people hide addictions and use drugs alone,” and decriminalizing substances can counteract that shame and instead direct people toward support and resources.

In British Columbia alone, there have been more than 9,500 deaths due to toxic illicit drugs in since 2016, with a one-year record of 2,236 deaths in 2021, according to a report from the British Columbia Coroners Service.

While British Columbia remains the first province to enact restrictions on Canada’s laws, many are hoping that other global powers across the country follow suit to end a culture that takes lives daily. In the U.S., the state of Oregon passed a similar decriminalization law in 2020, and lawmakers in several other states have introduced decriminalization legislation and other drug safety measures.