(Vancouver, British Columbia) – The Canadian government on Tuesday said it would allow British Columbia to try a three-year test of identifying possession of small quantities of drugs, seeking to stem the number of cases. record overdose deaths by alleviating fear of being caught by those in need. help.
The policy approved by federal officials does not legalize these substances, but Pacific Coast Canadians in possession of up to 2.5 grams of the illegal drug for personal use will not arrested or charged.
The three-year exemption effective January 31 will apply to drug users 18 years of age or older and includes opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
“Stigma and fear of criminalization lead some to conceal their drug use, use it alone, or use it in other ways that increase the risk of harm. This is why the Government of Canada considers drug use a health issue and not a crime,” tweeted Dr. Theresa Tam, director of public health for Canada.
The province’s health officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, said that “we are taking an important step towards eradicating that fear, shame and stigma”.
“This is not the only thing that can reverse this crisis but it will make a difference,” she added.
Dana Larsen, a drug policy reform activist, called the announcement “a step in the right direction,” but said he would like to see the development of a safe drug supply.
“It’s not going to stop anyone from dying of an overdose or drug poisoning,” Larsen said. “The drug will still be contaminated.”
“I think we need stores where you can go in and find legal heroin, legal cocaine and legal ecstasy and things like that for adults,” he said. “The real solution to this problem is to treat it like alcohol and tobacco.”
Alissa Greer, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who holds a doctorate in public health, said categorizing drugs by prescription could help reduce overdose deaths.
She said it would be good for users to be able to buy medicine from “managed supply through many different models, whether it is a prescription model, a pharmacy model, a staff club model.” better than going down to 7-Eleven and buying heroin. ”
British Columbia was the first Canadian province to apply for an exemption under Canada’s drug laws.
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to ban the consumption of all drugs. People caught giving any medication for less than 10 days are usually sent to a local committee, which includes doctors, lawyers and social workers, where they learn about treatment and services. medical availability.
In 2020, Oregon voted to become the first U.S. state to eliminate the nomenclature of hard drugs. Under the change, possession of controlled substances is a newly created Class E “violation,” rather than a felony or misdemeanor. It has a maximum penalty of $100, which can be waived if the person calls the hotline for a health assessment. The call can lead to addiction counseling and other services.
Carolyn Bennett, federal minister for mental health and addiction, said the British Columbia experiment could serve as a template for other jurisdictions in Canada.
“This is the first time-limited waiver in Canada,” she said. “Real-time adjustments will be made upon receipt of analysis of any data indicating a need for change.”
Since 2016, there have been more than 9,400 illicit poison deaths in British Columbia, with a one-year record of 2,224 in 2021.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he receives emails every Monday about drug deaths, including nine last week and 12 weeks before. He said that one week it was his own family.
“I feel like crying, and I still want to cry. This is a big, big thing,” says Stewart.
The 2.5 gram limit set by federal officials for the experiment is not equal to the 4.5 grams required by British Columbia. The higher number has been called the threshold too low by some groups of drug users and said the province has not consulted them adequately.
Sheila Malcolmson, British Columbia’s minister of mental health, says fear of criminalization has led many people to hide their addiction and drug use alone.
“Using alone can mean dying alone, especially in today’s increasingly toxic environment,” says Malcolmson.
She said the coroner in British Columbia reports that between five and seven people die each day in the province from drug overdoses, and half of those occur in private homes, often when people are alone.
“The fear and shame of keeping drug use a secret,” she said.
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