Decriminalization of illicit drugs in effect on January 31

Publishing Date

The BC government has been granted an exemption by Health Canada from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the possession of certain illegal drugs. This is one of the approaches by the provincial government to address the ongoing toxic poisoning crisis. The exemption begins on January 31, 2023, and is in effect until January 31, 2026. Local governments are invited to register for a webinar on February 15 to discuss decriminalization with Ministry staff and the BC Center for Disease Control.

Under this exemption, adults (18 years and older) in B.C. will not be arrested or charged for possessing small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use. The total amount of illegal drug(s) must be equal to or less than 2.5 grams. The illegal drugs covered by the exemption are: 

  • Opioids (such as heroin, morphine, and fentanyl)
  • Crack and powder cocaine 
  • Methamphetamine (Meth)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)

Adults found in personal possession of any combination of these illegal drugs that add up to a combined total of 2.5 grams or less will not be subject to criminal charges and the drugs will not be seized by police. Instead, they will be offered information about health and social supports, including local treatment and recovery services.

A Backgrounder and Frequently Asked Questions document is available on the UBCM website under the Health and Social Development policy page.

UBCM members support this approach and endorsed resolution 2021-NR44, which asked the provincial and federal governments to “declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and develop appropriate comprehensive, holistic Pan-Canadian overdose action plans that include the legislative and funding frameworks for decriminalization, de-stigmatization, safe supply, suitable medical treatments and thereby function to holistically address the opioid crisis, mental health issues and their connections to homelessness and overdose deaths in local governments across Canada”.

UBCM and BC local governments have provided feedback on decriminalization through:

  • Participation on the provincial Decriminalization Core Planning Table.
  • A webinar for local governments on October 13, 2021. This webinar offered an opportunity for local governments to ask questions and highlight local concerns to provincial staff, prior to the government’s submission to Health Canada.
  • The 2022 Convention session on Decriminalization and Harm Reduction. Presentations for the workshop are posted on the UBCM website.
  • Local Government Working Group on decriminalization. A call for expressions of interest was issued in September 2022 through the Compass newsletter. The Working Group is co-chaired by UBCM and MMHA. The Group has met 3 times in 2022 and will continue to meet in 2023.

In collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions will be hosting a webinar for local government elected officials and staff to discuss decriminalization and key implementation considerations. This webinar will take place on February 15th, 2023 from 1-2pm.

To register to attend, please be in contact with Whitney Welsh, Engagement Advisor, Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

More information can be found on the provincial government’s website, and the UBCM website under the Health and Social Development policy page.