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British Columbia has taken an important step forward to prevent drug poisoning deaths by applying to the federal government to remove criminal penalties for people who possess small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

B.C. is the first province in Canada to seek an exemption from Health Canada under Section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Since the Province declared a public health emergency in 2016, 7,700 British Columbians have died because of a toxic drug supply. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, B.C. saw a decrease in death due to toxic drugs. However, the COVID-19 public health emergency reversed this trend, causing toxic drug poisoning deaths to reach an all-time high.

B.C. is transforming health and substance-use services throughout the province as outlined in A Pathway to Hope, the Province’s mental health and addictions road map. Decriminalization is considered an important component in ending the toxic drug crisis, as the Province continues to create a full continuum of care that includes prevention, prescribed safer supply and other harm-reduction measures, treatment, and recovery supports.

A broad range of partners and stakeholders played a vital role in developing the application. The Province worked with health and social service providers, Indigenous partners, people with lived and living experience, municipalities, law enforcement, advocacy organizations and clinical and research experts. The submission is intended to support further discussions between Health Canada and the B.C. government on an approach to decriminalization in B.C.

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