Iillegal drugs It’s common in the Downtown Eastside, a poor neighborhood in British Columbia’s largest city, Vancouver. Users often shoot on the street. Overdose is common. In 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency after the number of deaths from illicit drugs more than doubled between 2009 and 2015, to 474. This number has been rising. Last year, at least 2,272 British Columbians died from drugs.
Activists hope the death toll will drop this year. On January 31, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to legalize certain illicit drugs.Anyone 18 and over can now legally possess a combined 2.5 grams of illicit substances, including cocaine, opioids such as heroin, methamphetamine and MDMA (or ecstasy). Owners will no longer be arrested, charged, or have their drugs confiscated. Police will distribute leaflets with treatment advice.
The original threshold required by the provincial government is 4.5 grams. But that amount has not been backed by law enforcement agencies, local police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It remains illegal to import, sell or give away drugs. Possession of drugs is still not allowed in Canada’s Armed Forces.
Federal Mental Health and Addiction Minister Carolyn Bennett called it a “huge shift in drug policy”. In 2019, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau twice rejected calls by then-Vancouver mayor Kennedy Stewart for immunity from the federal law. During the pandemic, perceptions have started to shift, Mr Stewart said. The number of overdoses increased. The U.S. state of Oregon decriminalized almost all drugs in 2020.
Not everyone is convinced. “It’s a very small step,” said Leslie McBain, whose son Jordan died of an opioid overdose in 2014. “It’s not going to stop deaths.” Sarah Blyth of the advocacy group Overdose Prevention Society hopes a safer drug supply will accompany that. Others want more radical change: legalize drugs, not decriminalize them. Canada created a regulated legal marijuana market in 2018. Eris Nyx, co-founder of a “sympathy club” that sells illegal drugs after lab tests, believes: “[If] They can do it with a drug, why can’t we do it with heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine? ” ■