British Columbia is asking the federal government for an exemption from criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of illicit drugs for their personal use.
After an announcement last April, the province officially became the first to ask Ottawa for Health Canada’s exemption under section 56 (1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The application would decriminalize personal possession of up to 4.5 grams of illicit drugs, including heroin and fentanyl.
“Substance use and addiction is a public health problem, not a criminal problem,” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said in a statement on Monday.
If the federal government accedes to the request, British Columbians caught with less than 4.5 grams will receive information on accessing addiction and health services. The police did not seize drugs from them.
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More than 7,700 British Columbians have died of illicit drug overdoses since the province declared a public health emergency in 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in these deaths, mainly attributed to increased social isolation, drug-only use and the closure of international borders.
The current supply of toxic drugs has made the past 20 months the deadliest in the province.
The province provided a 43-page report to the federal government as part of the exemption request, detailing the recent increase in deaths linked to higher levels of fentanyl.
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In addition to the exemption, the province said it was continuing its other work to prevent illicit drug-related deaths, including prevention, prescribed safer procurement and other harm reduction efforts.
This decision has the support of the organization representing police chiefs across the country, as well as the Chief Coroner of British Columbia.
“The criminalization of members of our communities who use drugs has resulted in decades of additional harm to many people who already suffer from mental or physical health problems and / or the effects of emotional or physical trauma,” said Lisa Lapointe in the press release.
“Decriminalization will help us move from punishment, which has resulted in social isolation, stigma and fear, to a medical model that recognizes substance use as a health problem. “
Almost exactly a year ago, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced a plan to decriminalize simple drug possession through a federal health exemption. The city submitted its final proposal to Health Canada on June 1.
Last month, the council also unanimously passed a motion to encourage compassion clubs to provide safer drugs to the city in the form of a peer-run facility selling pharmaceutical grade drugs like the heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine to users over 18 years of age. .
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