Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs

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.

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 adds 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.

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. UBCM sought expressions of interest through the Compass newsletter in summer 2021, and selected Councillor Murry Krause from the City of Prince George to act as the UBCM representative.
  • 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.
  • A delegation from Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions staff to UBCM’s Health and Social Development Committee in February 2022.
  • The 2022 Convention session on Decriminalization and Harm Reduction. Presentations for the Monday workshop are posting on the website.
  • Local Government Working Group on decriminalization. A call for expressions of interest was issued in September 2022 through the Compass. 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.

    Communities participating on the Working Group are: City of Vancouver, City of New Westminster, Capital Regional District, City of North Vancouver, Resort Municipality of Whistler, City of Salmon Arm, and the City of Kamloops.

  • In collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions hosted a webinar on February 15, 2023 for local government elected officials and staff to discuss decriminalization and key implementation considerations. 

Key Resources for Local Governments: 

Other Resources: