January 2023 will mark a huge turning point in the opioid crisis, which has claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 people in BC alone since 2016.

In an announcement made on Tuesday, May 31st, Federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett announced that BC will become the first province in Canada (and the first jurisdiction in North America) to allow those 18 years or older to carry small amounts of “hard,” illicit drugs.

To clarify – this does not legalize the use of “hard” drugs. Opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA will still be very much illegal.

Rather, BC is taking a crucial step toward reducing the shame and stigma associated with drug use by creating a three-year exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).

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“Today marks a fundamental rethinking of drug policy that favors health care over handcuffs, and I could not be more proud of the leadership shown here by the governments of Canada and British Columbia,” said Vancouver’s Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

So what does the exemption mean?

The bottom line? BC will temporarily remove criminal charges for those who possess a total of 2.5 grams (or less) of certain illicit substances. Law enforcement will not confiscate the drugs, and there will be no requirement for people to seek treatment.

However, the production, trafficking, and exportation of these drugs will remain illegal and punishable by law. For the full details, visit the official press release from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Health Canada.

The federal government, health authorities, law enforcement, and Indigenous partners will all oversee this policy change. Experts like Carolyn Bennett will closely monitor public health and safety indicators to ensure the best outcomes.

The exemption will be in effect from January 31st, 2023, to January 31st, 2026.