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Decriminalization for small amounts of some controlled substances coming soon

Changes to possession of some illicit substances coming on Jan. 31
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The New Westminster police board has advocated for the decriminalization of simple possession of drugs - and it will soon be happening in B.C.

People possessing up to 2.5 grams of certain controlled substances in B.C. soon won’t have to be worried about getting in trouble with the law.

As of Jan. 31, 2023, the province of British Columbia has been granted an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize possession of personal use of up to 2.5 grams of certain controlled substances, including opioids (heroin, morphine, fentanyl, etc.), cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, said the New Westminster Police Department’s new Decriminalization of Controlled Substances policy. 

The police board approved a Decriminalization of Controlled Substances at its Jan. 17 meeting. The reasons for the policy are:

* To ensure NWPD members are aware of their responsibilities when dealing with controlled substances that fall within the exemption

* To assist in the fight against the toxic drug crisis

* To assist in reducing barriers and stigma that prevent people from accessing life-saving supports and services.

* To acknowledge that substance use is a public health matter.

In May 2022, B.C.’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced the province had been granted a three-year exemption under the federal act to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of certain illicit substances for personal use. The exemption will be in effect from Jan. 31, 2023 to Jan. 31, 2026, and the province will use that time to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of the exemption.

“The shocking number of lives lost to the overdose crisis requires bold actions and significant policy change. I have thoroughly reviewed and carefully considered both the public health and public safety impacts of this request,” Carolyn Bennett, federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, said in a May 2022 news release. “Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis.”

The New Westminster police board has advocated for this action.

According to B.C.’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, this exemption is not legalization.

“These substances remain illegal, but adults who have 2.5 grams or less of the certain illicit substances for personal use will no longer be arrested, charged or have their drugs seized,” said the news release. “Instead, police will offer information on available health and social supports and will help with referrals when requested.”

B.C. is the first province in Canada to receive an exemption from Health Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act so that adults are not subject to criminal charges for the personal possession of certain illegal drugs.

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus

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