Understanding the Decriminalization of Personal Drug Use in British Columbia: A Public Health Approach

British Columbia has taken a significant step towards addressing substance use as a public health issue rather than a criminal one. Starting from January 31, 2023, until January 31, 2026, adults aged 18 and over are allowed to possess small amounts of certain illegal drugs, including opioids, cocaine (crack and powder), methamphetamine, and MDMA, for personal use. This policy change aims to reduce the stigma associated with drug use and encourage individuals to seek necessary services and care.

Decriminalization does not equate to legalization. These drugs remain illegal and unregulated, and will not be sold in stores. Drug trafficking and related offences continue to be illegal. This change applies strictly to adults in BC, with some exceptions such as schools, childcare facilities, airports, and while operating motor vehicles or watercraft.

Under the new policy, adults can possess up to 2.5 grams of these drugs for personal use without facing arrest, charges, fines, or seizure of drugs. Instead, they will be offered information about voluntary health and social supports. For more details and a complete list of exceptions, please refer to www.gov.bc.ca/Decriminalization.