Canadians are opposed to the decriminalization of personal possession of cocaine and other narcotics in British Columbia, according to a recent Privy Council Office report.
“Though some participants felt decriminalization might represent a positive development a large number were more opposed to the idea,” said the report, titled “Continuous Qualitative Data Collection of Canadians’ Views,” which was first obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.
“Many were concerned about drug users taking advantage of this initiative, using these dangerous drugs more frequently.”
The June 28 report came a month after the federal government on May 31 approved British Columbia’s request for an exemption to subsection 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which would halt criminal charges against all adults in the province in possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.
The exemption will set in on Jan. 31, 2023, and run until Jan. 31, 2026. It applies to all B.C. residents aged 18 and older, exempting possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs, including opioids, fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and MDMA, the B.C. government said in a statement released on May 31.
Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of mental health and addictions, said in a statement on May 31 that exemption doesn’t mean “legalization” of the drugs.
Instead of being arrested, charged, or having their drugs seized, police will “offer information on available health and social supports” to adult B.C. residents found in possession of the drugs, the statement said.
The B.C. executive council sought the exemption on Nov. 1, 2021. The approval marks the first of its kind in Canada since Parliament passed the Opium and Drug Act in 1911, criminalizing cocaine, opium, and morphine.
In 2011, the City of Vancouver won an initial exemption under the Substances Act to permit a drug injection site, the first of 37 currently operating across Canada, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.
Many Canadians surveyed were worried about the potential health risks of decriminalizing substances like fentanyl, with participants saying “no amount could be considered safe.”
“Some were also worried about the potential of recreational drug users, especially youth, falling into cycles of addiction and increasing their risk of overdose if provided easier access to these substances,” the study said.
“It was widely felt decriminalization alone would have minimal impact in solving what was seen as a growing drug problem,” it added. The Privy Council commissioned the focus group study under a $2.4 million contract with The Strategic Counsel.
Following the May 31 announcement, federal Justice Minister David Lametti said there won’t be a “larger discussion” on decriminalization across the country for the time being.
His remarks came ahead of a Parliament vote on June 1, on an NDP private member’s bill, Bill C-5, which requests the nationwide decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs.
The Department of Health Expert Task Force on Substance Use also recommended the national decriminalization of cocaine, heroin, meth, and other narcotics in a 2021 report, titled “Recommendations On Alternatives To Criminal Penalties For Simple Possession Of Controlled Substances.”
The report called for the “elimination of all penalties and coercive measures,” saying that “penalties of any kind for the simple possession and use of substances are harmful to Canadians.”