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Rule of LawCanada

Canada's British Columbia makes U-turn over hard drugs

April 27, 2024

Last year, a pilot program was launched in a Canadian province allowing adults to carry up to 2.5 grams of hard drugs for personal use. Soaring drug use in public spaces has raised concerns over public safety.

Drugs hidden inside a fake book
The decriminalization policy led to increased drug use in public spaces, prompting complaints and criticisms against the government from local politicians, health workers and police.Image: David Tesinsky/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance

The Canadian province of British Columbia is reversing its policy of allowing the open use of hard drugs in public.

Premier David Eby said Friday that police will soon have the power again to enforce drug use laws in all public places, including hospitals, restaurants, parks, and beaches.

It brings to an end a much-criticized pilot program that allowed the personal use of some illegal drugs, including cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA, heroin, morphine, and fentanyl. 

The program launched in January last year, to remove the stigma associated with drug use that keeps people from seeking help, was supposed to run for three years. 

'Addiction a health issue'

On Friday, Premier Eby said he still believed addiction is a health issue and "not a criminal laws issue."

"But the compassion for people who are struggling does not mean anything goes," he said. He expressed empathy for those struggling with addiction, but insisted public safety is paramount.

"We’re taking action to give police the enforcement tools they need to keep parks, hospitals and transit safe from public drug use," the premier said on X, formerly Twitter.

Concerns over public disorder and drug use

The move comes after Vancouver's deputy police chief, Fiona Wilson, last week testified at a parliamentary committee about having "absolutely no authority to address problematic drug use" under the decriminalization pilot.

"If you have someone who is with their family at the beach, and there's a person next to them smoking crack cocaine, it's not a police matter," she told the House of Commons health committee.

A heroin addict shooting up into his leg in Victoria, British Columbia,
Since 2016, illicit opioid overdoses have killed more than 14,000 people in British Columbia.Image: David Tesinsky/ZUMA/picture alliance

Police will have the power to ask drug users to leave an area or seize drugs and "only arrest for simple possession of illicit drugs in exceptional circumstances." 

Drug use will still be allowed in private home or at supervised consumption or drug-checking sites.

ss/lo (AP, AFP, Reuters)