Since the publication of Pivot’s 2020 report, Act Now! Decriminalizing Drugs in Vancouver, numerous governments have followed our recommendation to request a federal exemption to decriminalize drug possession. The Province of BC is the first to receive its exemption. Its new policy, a 3-year pilot project, takes effect this month on January 31, 2023.
To ensure people in BC know when they are and are not protected by BC’s decriminalization policy, we’ve created a printable Know Your Rights Card with our comrades at the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). If you’re a person who uses drugs (or a drug user-led group), feel free to contact us for some hardcopy cards.
Image by: Asha Nygra
Pivot and allies have long supported the full decriminalization of drug possession and necessity trafficking. Why? Because the criminalization of drug possession is proven to be utterly ineffective in reducing the use and availability of illicit drugs. It also results in the disproportionate targeting and incarceration of poor and racialized drug users. Finally, it refuses to accept that people always have and always will use drugs; by cutting off all legal channels to any safe or regulated drug supply, prohibition fuels the toxic drug market that people must turn to as an alternative.
BC’S ‘DECRIMINALIZATION’ POLICY
BC’s move toward decriminalization is a step in the right direction, but it still falls short of what we really need: full decriminalization that protects all people who possess drugs for their own use.
In short, BC’s policy decriminalizes the possession of 2.5 grams TOTAL of certain drugs (opioids, cocaine, meth, and MDMA). Police are instructed to NOT confiscate drugs below this amount, but they can issue an information card with service and referral information. Police CANNOT force people to access those services. The policy is in effect at least until January 31, 2026. It applies only in BC, and only to people aged 18 and over.
Of particular concern:
- BC’s model does not protect youth. People aged 18 and under are still subject to criminal law for any/all illicit drug possession
- BC’s model only applies to drug quantities below a cumulative total of 2.5 grams—a far cry from what is needed for people who purchase larger quantities (i.e., people in rural and remote communities, people with limited mobility, people who purchase for multiple people for safety reasons, etc.)
- BC’s model requires police to issue “information cards” to people who possess drugs. The retention of police in a “public health” policy is counter-productive. No matter the encounter, people will avoid police—this will mirror the harms of criminalization, which drives drug use underground.
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.