On Tuesday, British Columbia will begin a three-year decriminalization experiment, allowing drug users 18 and over to carry a up to 2.5 grams of opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, as well as cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA.
It’s an experiment that’s likely to influence drug policy across Canada.
The approach is a “monumental shift” in drug policy, says Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of mental health and addictions, adding that it’s meant to foster “trusting and supportive relationships” rather than criminalization.
“Through this exemption we will be able to reduce the stigma, the fear and shame that keep people who use drugs silent about their use,” she told a Vancouver news conference Monday.
“And help more people access life-saving supports and treatment.”
Daniel Werb, director at the Toronto-based Centre on Drug Policy Evaluation, which helped the city with its initial request, said Health Canada appears to be “slow-walking” decriminalization in Toronto.
“My opinion is that the decision on Toronto is going to be based on whether what happens in B.C. appears, politically, to make sense,” Werb said in an interview.
The caution amid a deadly overdose epidemic is rooted, said the addictions researcher at Unity Health, in the stigmatization of drug users over a century of criminalization.
“I think it’s symptomatic of a society wide issue, which is that people don’t really care whether other people are dying of overdoses,” he said.