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BC Health Officer Wants Decriminalization Of Drug Possession For Personal Use

Decriminalization Of Drug Possession

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has published a special report that calls for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.

Titled “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in B.C.”, her report highlights that “there is widespread global recognition that the failed “war on drugs” and the resulting criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs has not reduced drug use but instead has increased health harms”.

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She continues by talking about the stigma people face:

“The societal stigma associated with drug use leads many to use drugs alone and hidden, increasing their risk of dying”.

Henry recommends that the Province of BC urgently move to decriminalize people who possess controlled substances for personal use.

“This is an important additional step to stem the tide of unprecedented deaths” reads her report.

Decriminalization would apply to all drugs, but it would not include legalization. There’s also evidence to show that this idea might work. Notably, Portugal adopted a decriminalization approach to drug possession for personal use in 2001.


Decriminalization Of Drug Possession

Decriminalization is a policy approach that occurs on the continuum between criminalization to full legalization; within this range are multiple options that can be designed based on needs in a given jurisdiction.

Here’s a graph that explains the above point:

Photo: “Stopping the Harm: Decriminalization of People Who Use Drugs in B.C.”

So how can decriminalization be introduced in BC?

There are two options available. The first option is to use provincial legislation (specifically, the Police Act) that allows the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General to set broad provincial priorities with respect to people who use drugs.

The second option is to “develop a new regulation under the Police Act to include a provision that prevents any member of a police force in BC from expending resources on the enforcement of simple possession offences under Section 4(1) of the CDSA”.

Henry says that despite current harm-reduction initiatives, an average of four people continue to die in B.C. each day due to the province’s illegal drug supply.


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