BC decriminalizes hard drugs amid fentanyl crisis

"The state of quasi-decriminalization, which has existed in BC for more than a decade, has led to a massive increase in drug abuse and associated negative outcomes."

Jarryd Jaeger Vancouver, BC
On Tuesday, following the granting of a three-year exemption from Health Canada, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to decriminalize hard drugs, with the government arguing that "substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal justice issue."

Many have argued that it will only result in more drugs on the street and, inevitably, more dead British Columbians, while some have praised the move as a step in the right direction.

Under the new laws, adults found possessing less than 2.5 grams of certain formerly-illicit drugs will not face criminal charges, nor will they have the substances seized by law enforcement.

Drugs that can now be possessed and used without punishment include opioids, such as heroin, morphine, fentanyl, crack and powder cocaine, meth, and MDMA. 

The BC government emphasized that "decriminalization is not legalization," noting that, "under this exemption, illegal drugs (including those listed above) are not legalized and will not be sold in stores. Drug trafficking remains illegal, regardless of the amount of drug(s) in possession." They added that all prior restrictions relating to drug use at schools, airports, and private establishments will remain in place.

While the aforementioned drugs may not be sold in stores, in Vancouver, opioids were recently made available for purchase via vending machines. The project was meant to give users access to safe medical-grade opioids instead of potentially contaminated street drugs, however, it has come under scrutiny as of late due to the potential of misuse.

According to the BC Public Safety and Solicitor General, at least 2,272 British Columbians died from toxic drug usage, marking the second-highest year on record, next to 2021, which saw 2,306 deaths.

Local political commentator Aaron Gunn slammed the BC government over its decision to allow decriminalization to go forward as planned without first setting up the proper channels for addicts to receive health services.

He argued that the ramifications of move made by the provincial NDP in conjunction with the Trudeau Liberals "will echo for years, if not decades, to come."

"The state of quasi-decriminalization, which has existed in BC for more than a decade, has led to a massive increase in drug abuse and associated negative outcomes," he said, pointing out that over 2,000 British Columbians die as a result of drug use every year.

He suggested that the most damaging effect of decriminalization will be the destigmatization of "what is objectively the most destructive behaviour in our society today," adding that it will likely "lower the barriers for those on the fence about making that jump to fentanyl, heroin or cocaine."

"A society that says it's ok to pump yourself full of deadly, debilitating drugs in perpetuity with no regard for anyone else around you? (or the taxpayers picking up the bill?)," Gunn concluded, "is not the path forward. Canadians deserve better."

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