British Columbia Decriminalizes Illicit Drugs Even as Overdose Deaths Rise



From the same country that decided outlawing handguns is the best way to fight a rise in gun violence comes a new exemption decriminalizing opioids and other illicit drugs as a means of, you may have guessed it… fighting the recent surge in overdose related deaths. Read on to unpack the “logic” in one Canadian province’s new stamp of approval on drug ownership. 

In response to a request from the province of British Columbia, the federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health granted an exemption to national drug law for the province. The Canadian government rationalized this decision as a means of addressing the overdose crisis in the province. Federal authorities pledged “comprehensive monitoring and evaluation” to determine the effectiveness of the exemption in reducing the “stigma and harms related to substance use” and hoped for increase in “access to health and social services for people who use drugs.”

Starting January 31, 2023 and extending through January 31, 2026, adult residents of the province will not be held criminally responsible for possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain restricted substances. The drugs decriminalized for personal use in the amount specified include opioids (including heroin, morphine, fentanyl), cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy). The stated goal is to end the crisis of overdose within British Columbia. 

The crisis of drug-related deaths in British Columbia is a relatively new phenomenon, believed to correlate strongly with the pandemic. The North American nation notably enacted some of the strictest and longest lasting lockdowns over the course of the pandemic. Statistics pulled directly from the Canadian government’s website reveal a 95% increase in opioid overdose deaths during the first year of the pandemic. A total of 7,224 opioid toxicity deaths occurred between April 2021 and March 2021, compared to just 3,711 during the same period in the previous year. Between January and September of 2021, 88% of accidental opioid toxicity deaths took place in British Columbia, Alberta, or Ontario. 

Canada’s exploratory solution to reducing drug-related deaths is apparently legalizing the means, no doubt proving a fascinating experiment from start to finish. Meanwhile, it seeks to outlaw gun ownership for law abiding citizens as a means of decreasing gun violence. Same end goals. Different “logic.”

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Aly is a military spouse and mom to two. She has a special interest in international security and foreign affairs, having lived overseas, worked with Sister Cities International and served as a commissioning editor for an international relations website. Aly holds a Masters in Global Studies and International Relations from Northeastern University and currently resides in Tennessee.
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