One of the largest provinces in Canada is moving forward with a plan to become the first province in the country to decriminalize several hard drugs.
Starting on Tuesday, residents of British Columbia who are older than 18 will be allowed to carry up to 2.5 grams of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and morphine, the BBC reported.
British Columbia was granted permission by the government to try out the plan for three years, when the drugs will still be illegal but those carrying less than 2.5 grams will not be arrested, charged or have the drugs confiscated.
Instead, residents carrying the drugs will be offered information on health and social services.
“Decriminalizing people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports,” Jennifer Whiteside, the British Columbia minister for mental health and addictions, said about the plan.
Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s federal minister of mental health and addictions, said the move is a “a monumental shift in drug policy that favors fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalization”.
Advocates for the plan hope it will address a spike in overdose deaths which has left 10,000 people dead in British Columbia since 2016, when the country declared drug related deaths a public health emergency, CBC reported.
Many critics of the plan in Canada say it does not go far enough and that 2.5 grams is too low of a threshold that will not make a difference for users who consume large amounts of drugs.
“Decriminalization, to my mind, would be if you have a substance for personal use, then it’s for personal use, and the police should not have a role to play in that. … What you decide to use for your personal needs is your choice,” Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, told CBC.
Some have publicly voiced opposition to decriminalizing drugs, including Chuck Doucette, president of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada, who said that “making drug use easier for them is kind of like palliative care.”
“It’s just condemning them to a slow death because of drugs, whereas if you get them off drugs, get them a life back, they can enjoy life,” Doucette said, the New York Times reported, adding that the plan is a “cop out” and that drug users should be provided help addressing the root causes “that led them to use drugs in the first place.”
Others have pointed out that similar plan in Oregon enacted two years ago has not yielded significant results and that most overdose deaths in British Columbia take place in city centers where drugs have already effectively been decriminalized, National Post reported.