British Columbia announced a pilot program to decriminalize small drug possession on Tuesday. The authorities hope to ease the opioid crisis that is affecting this province of Canada the most.
Substances like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA and fentanyl – and thus their production, distribution and smuggling – will remain essentially illegal. However, for the mere possession of them in an amount not exceeding 2.5 g in total, there will be no risk of arrest, fine or confiscation of the goods. Instead, the detainee with the drugs found will be informed by officers about treatment and support options.
British Columbia authorities asked the government for it in November, when the number of fatal overdoses in 2021 exceeded the record 2,000. Since 2016, when a public health emergency was announced in the province in connection with the opioid crisis, 9,400 have already died. people. This is the highest figure in all of Canada, with over 26,000 jobs over the same period. overdose deaths.
British Columbia is set to be an example for the rest of the country
The purpose of an exception to national law is to de-stigmatize illegal drug users and make it easier for them to apply for help. – For too many years, a price to pay for ideological opposition to [polityki] Harm reduction was a human life, Canadian Mental Health and Addiction Minister Carolyn Bennett said Tuesday. – We do it to save people, but also to give them dignity and choice – she added. In her opinion, British Columbia has a chance to work out solutions that will also benefit other regions of Canada. The province itself has followed in the footsteps of the US state of Oregon, where, from 2020, possession of small amounts of certain drugs is subject to a fine. There has been a decline in the number of arrests there, but whether more users have started to seek help as a result is a matter of debate.
Recreational marijuana use has been legal across Canada since 2018.
The addicts themselves criticize the new regulations
In British Columbia, located on the Pacific Ocean, the new regulations are to enter into force on January 31, 2023 and apply for 3 years. After introducing an exception to the national regulations, the government, in cooperation with the provincial authorities, is to monitor the situation and introduce any amendments on an ongoing basis, if necessary. However, the communities of addicts are already submitting comments. In their opinion, the threshold of 2.5 g is too low to cover all those in need of aid (the regional authorities proposed in November that it should amount to 4.5 g). The implementation of the changes only after seven months has also been criticized, while already fatal overdoses are already occurring in British Columbia six times a day on average.
Depenalization alone will not solve the problem
Half of these deaths occur in private homes, usually when no one is around to call for help. This is pointed out by the local minister of mental health, Sheila Malcolmson. – Fear [przed karą] and shame are why drugs are used in secret, she says, quoted by the Guardian. – And taking alone may mean dying alone, especially in the times of the tragically growing toxicity of illegal substances – he adds. The head of the government’s public health agency, Theresa Tam, shared similar thoughts on Twitter, and her regional counterpart Bonnie Henry stressed that the pilot program is “an important step to overcome this fear, shame and stigmatization.” He emphasizes, however, that although it has a chance to change a lot, the mere introduction of new regulations will not be enough to resolve the crisis.
Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs is not the first idea of the British Columbia authorities to solve the problem of overdoses. In 2019, addicted residents of the province gained access to safer, pharmacy opioids, and there were also points where drug dealers and users can test their substances for free for the presence of potentially life-threatening admixtures. The regulations, which are to enter into force in January next year, apply to adults, excluding the military, and will not apply to kindergartens, schools and airports.
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