Decriminalization and local governments

Publishing Date

On January 31, the provincial government received a three-year exemption by Health Canada from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of certain illegal drugs.  

This exemption does not apply on the premises of K-12 schools or licensed child care facilities, at airports, on Canadian Coast Guard vessels and helicopters, in a motor vehicle or watercraft operated by a minor, or when illegal substances are within reach of the operator of a motor vehicle or watercraft. The exemption also does not apply to youth aged 17 or younger, or to Canadian Armed Forces members who are subject to the Code of Service Discipline.

The UBCM membership endorsed resolution 2021-NR44, in support of decriminalization as one of the tools to address the overdose crisis. The membership also called for legislative and funding frameworks for decriminalization, free and safe supply, and suitable medical treatments.

However, at this time, local governments are raising concerns about the use of these drugs in parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. Some communities are either passing bylaws, or are considering bylaws to regulate public use. Local governments considering bylaws are also meeting with their local Medical Health Officers to consider their advice, as per the requirement in the Public Health Act.

UBCM continues to advocate on our members behalf in requesting that the provincial government:

  • Provide funding and staff for security, clean-up, and social services at harm reduction locations and in surrounding neighbourhoods to address the unintended financial and social consequences related to overdose prevention and supervised injection and inhalation sites;
  • Develop an effective retrieval and safe disposal program for used needles;  
  • Offer additional safe inhalation spaces; and
  • Improve resourcing and facilities for mental health and addictions throughout the province.

The UBCM Executive will be seeking additional direction from the membership on this issue through our resolutions process at the 2023 Convention.

Training on Decriminalization
Local government staff, including bylaw departments, can access a training course offered by the Canadian Police Knowledge Network, called Decriminalization in BC: Shifting to a Health Approach to Substance Use, that provides an overview of the decriminalization framework. To register, a staff supervisor can email the Canadian Police Knowledge Network and reference the course name. 

Public Health Information
The BC Centre for Disease Control has published information for local governments on the decriminalization of illegal drugs. This includes information on engaging with medical health officers and responses to common community concerns about public substance use.

For those local governments seeking additional information, the UBCM website also provides background information, a frequently asked questions document, presentations, and other resources.