Statement from the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health on the Implementation of the subsection 56(1) Exemption from Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Personal possession of small amounts of certain illegal substances in British Columbia (January 31, 2023, to January 31, 2026)
From: Health Canada
January 30, 2023
Canada is facing an unprecedented and deadly overdose crisis and increasingly toxic illegal drug supply. This crisis has, and continues to be heartbreaking for families, friends, and communities across the country. Collectively, we must recognize that substance use is a public health issue that is shaped by complex and interrelated factors, many of which can be beyond an individual’s control, such as experiences of trauma, income, access to stable housing, and impacts on racialized communities.
Since 2016, more than 32,000 people have died of an overdose in Canada, with British Columbia severely impacted by overdose deaths and related harms. According to the B.C. Coroners Service, 2,267 lives were lost to illicit drug toxicity in B.C. in 2021 – the highest recorded death toll in a calendar year. In the first nine months of 2022, 1,644 lives were lost to illicit drug toxicity in B.C. It’s clear that innovative solutions must be implemented in order to save lives.
On May 31, 2022, I announced the granting of a time-limited exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for adults in the province of B.C. As of tomorrow, January 31, 2023, until January 31, 2026, adults aged 18 years or older within B.C will not be subject to criminal charges for the possession of small amounts of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA for personal use.
This time-limited exemption is the first of its kind in Canada. We are very conscious of our responsibility to protect the health and safety of all people in B.C. and so, to support the successful implementation of this exemption, we have been working closely with provincial officials as they put in place measures outlined in the Letter of Requirements This includes:
- improving access to health and social services;
- providing law enforcement training and guidance;
- engaging with Indigenous partners;
- undertaking consultations with people who use drugs, law enforcement, racialized communities, municipalities and other key stakeholders;
- leading effective communications and public awareness; and
- identifying the key public health and public safety indicators and conducting comprehensive monitoring and evaluation.
The dedication, commitment, and hard work of the province, as well as municipalities in B.C., has provided a strong foundation for the implementation of this exemption. Our government will continue working with the Province of B.C. throughout this exemption period, to rigorously monitor, collect and analyze data and evidence, and assess the impacts on public health and public safety in order to determine that this exemption continues to serve in the public interest.
While approving this request is significant, it must be seen as one additional tool to be used in the ongoing comprehensive response to this crisis. We remain committed to responding to this crisis with a whole-of-system approach to address the toxic drug supply and save lives. Since 2017, our government has invested more than $800 million in a wide range of actions and interventions through prevention, harm reduction and treatment efforts. Along with these investments, we have also repealed mandatory minimum penalties for drug offences, which is helping to move more Canadians, including those from over-represented groups such as Indigenous people, Black Canadians and other racialized communities, away from the criminal justice system.
Our government knows that more needs to be done across the country to save lives and increase the access to harm reduction and treatment. We will continue working in partnership with all provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities, and experts, including individuals with lived and living experience, to determine the best ways to support people who use substances and help reverse this national public health crisis.
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, P.C., M.P.
Office of the Honourable Carolyn Bennett
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health