Wednesday , March 22 2023

Canada experiments with decriminalizing hard drugs


OTTAWA: Canada’s province of British Columbia is starting a first-in-the-nation trial decriminalizing small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

From Tuesday, adults can possess up to 2.5g of such drugs, as well as methamphetamine, fentanyl and morphine.

Canada’s federal government granted the request by the west coast province to try out the three-year experiment.

It follows a similar policy in the nearby US state of Oregon, which decriminalized hard drugs in 2020.

Ahead of the pilot’s launch, British Columbia and federal officials outlined the rules under the federally approved exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

While those substances will remain illegal, adults found in possession of a combined total of less than 2.5g of the drugs will not be arrested, charged or have their substances seized. Instead, they will be offered information on available health and social services.

Federal minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett on Monday called the move “a monumental shift in drug policy that favors fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalization”.

Some 10,000 residents have died from drug overdoses since British Columbia declared drugs to be a public health emergency in 2016, officials said.

“Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports,” said Jennifer Whiteside, the British Columbia minister for mental health and addictions.

Thousands of police officers in the province have been offered training on the rule change, including those in Vancouver, the largest city in the province.

The program will run from 31 January 2023 until 31 January 2026, unless it is revoked by the federal government.

Some experts have questioned the 2.5g limit, saying that it is not enough to account for the habits of many addicts.

There are some exemptions to the scheme.

The sale of drugs remains illegal. It is also illegal to possess drugs on the grounds of schools, childcare facilities and airports.

Canada legalized the use of recreational cannabis for adults nationwide in 2018 but the four drugs now allowed in small quantities remain prohibited, meaning there are no plans to sell them in stores, unlike marijuana. Trafficking them across borders also remains illegal.

Opioid deaths have been rising again in the shadow of the pandemic, notably in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where overdose casualties have reached historic highs. Is enough being done to end this second public health crisis?

Every month or so, Garth Mullins has breakfast with his best friend. They go to the same place – an aging diner in downtown Vancouver with chipped wooden booths and neon signs. They always end up there around 1pm, talking through bites of bacon, eggs and white toast “and I always think, ‘Is this the last time I’m going to get bacon eggs with him?'” Mullins said.

Mullins was an injection heroin user for more than a decade, before moving to methadone. He is now a journalist and advocate for drug users and harm reduction policies in his home of Vancouver at the centre of the overdose crisis in the province of British Columbia (BC). (Int’l Monitoring Desk)

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