Public drug use now prohibited in British Columbia

May 24, 2024

The province of British Columbia has taken action to prohibit illicit drug use illegal in all public spaces, including inside hospitals, on public transit, and in parks. After its submission of an amendment request to the federal government on April 26, which became approved on May 7, possession of controlled substances in public spaces is now illegal. The amendment follows increasing concerns from BC municipalities, law enforcement officials, health sector workers, and community members due to increasing public drug use.

“Keeping people safe is our highest priority,” said B.C. Premier David Eby in a released statement. “We’re taking action to make sure police have the tools they need to ensure safe and comfortable communities for everyone as we expand treatment options so people can stay alive and get better.”

An announcement posted on the B.C. government’s website states that the province is currently working with police to come up with guidance to ensure that individuals who merely possess drugs are not arrested unless they’re threatening public safety or causing a disturbance. The website also states that as part of the new amendment, when police are called to a public space where illegal drug use is taking place, they will be able to obligate the person to leave the area, seize the drugs, or arrest the person, if such action is necessary.

“Our communities are facing big challenges. People are dying from deadly street drugs and we see the issues with public use and disorder on our streets,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in a press release. “As we continue to go after the gangs and organized criminals who are making and trafficking toxic drugs, we’re taking action now to make it illegal to use drugs in public spaces, and to expand access to treatment to help people who need it most.”  

According to the federal government’s website, exemptions to this amendment will continue to apply in private residences, healthcare clinics as designated by the province of BC, places where individuals are lawfully sheltering, and overdose prevention and drug checking sites.

“This exemption is an additional tool that the federal government is providing to BC to help support a balanced public health and public safety approach to addressing the overdose crisis and substance use. The Government of Canada continues to take a comprehensive approach to addressing substance use harms and the overdose crisis,” states the website.

Following concerns regarding the safety of health care workers, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that the province will also introduce specific measures aimed at curbing illicit drug use in health care facilities — including the prohibition of street drug possession or use.

“We are taking immediate action to make hospitals safer and ensuring policies are consistent and strictly enforced through additional security, public communication and staff supports,” Dix said in a released statement.