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B.C gets “first of its kind” exemption to decriminalize having small amounts of opioids

B.C will be the first province to decriminalize small amounts of opioids.

The announcement made Tuesday is meant to take away the shame that prevents people from seeking life-saving help according to provincial officials.

Joined by her BC counterpart Minister Sheila Malcolmson, Carolyn Bennett, Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, announced the country’s first, time-limited exemption to Section 56 of the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act.

“As of January 31st, adults 18 and over in B.C will no longer be subject to criminal charges for the possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use and the drugs will not be confiscated,” Bennet says. According to officials, these include opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

Bennet says that she and Minister Malcomson want to be very clear, “This is not legalization. We have not taken this decision lightly, we have been working with the province over the past months to ensure that their final application was able to meet the criteria necessary for Canada to be able to grant a province-wide section 56 exemption to the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act,” she says.

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Bennet says this time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada, adding that with it comes great responsibility for the health, safety, and well-being of the people in British Columbia. Malcolmson adds, “Decriminalization removes criminal sanctions for possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. Drug trafficking remains illegal,”.

Also present at the Tuesday announcement was B.C’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who says the exemption is not the one single bullet that will reverse the province’s drug crisis, but saysc, “We have seen clearly how important it is that this, along with the advancements that we’re making on safer drug supplies, will make a difference in curbing the tragedy that we have seen.”

Bennet adds, “as part of the exemption request the BC government is committed to a comprehensive implementation plan to ensure risk mitigation and support of full range of resources and services for people who use drugs.”

Health Canada says the exemption can be changed or revoked at any time during the three years it will be in place. There are limits. Exemptions will not apply to adults on school grounds or in child care facilities, at airports or Coast Guard vessels and aircraft.

***With files from Mo Fahim, Wendy Gray, and Josiah Spyker.

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