New B.C. drug law exemption could reduce seizures of some drugs in half

Feb 17, 2023

According to a new analysis by Postmedia, the recent decriminalization of small amounts of specific illicit drugs in B.C. could decrease the number of seizures of some drugs by more than half.

Following the decriminalization, which took place on January 31, B.C. adults will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 grams of cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine, and opioids as part of a drug policy exemption which is the first of its kind in Canada.

The analysis included data published on the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) website that listed illicit drugs seized and tested by Vancouver police from July 2020 to July 2022, and demonstrated that the decriminalization of small amounts of certain illicit drugs in B.C. could reduce the number of seizures of some drugs by more than 50%. Specifically, the analysis of over 15,000 drugs seized demonstrated that large seizures were relatively rare, and the typical amount was less than two grams for some of the most common drugs seized.

Furthermore, over the two-year period covered by the data, nearly 100 kg of opioids and more than 60 kg of cocaine and methamphetamine were seized, in addition to over 7 kg of benzodiazepines.

Approximately 30% of seizures were stimulants, including cocaine and methamphetamine, followed closely by opioids. Fentanyl made up almost 80% of all seized opioids. However, police were unable to identify about 22% of substances sent to the lab for testing.

“Substance use is a public health issue, not a criminal one,” said Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s addictions minister, in a released statement. “By decriminalizing people who use drugs, we will break down the stigma that stops people from accessing life-saving support and services.”

In addition, DeBeck said while the policy is “incredibly important,” the 2.5 gram threshold is too low. “A goal of trying to limit 50 per cent of those (police) interactions doesn’t seem like a very lofty public health goal,” she said, noting that a lot of people will be left out because of the low threshold.

Finally, DeBeck added that decriminalization should not be viewed as a way to address the toxic drugs drug supply in B.C.

“Our expectation should not be that (decriminalization) is a response to the drug toxicity crisis,” she said. “My concern is that people are expecting [the decriminalization] to instantly address the overdose crisis,” DeBeck said. “And when it doesn’t, they’ll say [the decriminalization] failed.”