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Canada’s government approved British Columbia’s plan to decriminalize small amounts of hard drugs for personal use this week in what will be a three-year experiment.
Under the new plan, which will run from January 2023 through 2026, Canadians aged 18 and older will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.
There are some exceptions to the new law, including that Canadians cannot possess drugs on K-12 school premises or in child care facilities. Substances can also not be “readily accessible” to anyone driving a vehicle.
Canada’s westernmost province set a record for drug overdoses deaths last year, as 2,224 people died in 2021.
Fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, is driving the increase in overdose deaths. A report earlier this year by the British Columbia Coroners Service found that fentanyl was detected in 79% of drug overdose deaths last year, up from just 5% in 2012.
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Drug dealers on the black market often mix fentanyl with other drugs like heroin and cocaine, or even press it into counterfeit pills to resemble Xanax and other opiates, in order to stretch out their supply and increase the effects of their product.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart welcomed the drug decriminalization experiment, saying that it will “remove police from the lives of drug users and instead connect them to a growing array of effective healthcare services.”
“We need to detoxify our drug supply with [legalized], uncontaminated supply of illicit substances, build more purpose-built housing with embedded health care supports, and approve more safe and supervised consumption sites,” Stewart said Tuesday.
South of British Columbia, Oregon became the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize small amounts of drugs in 2020 when voters approved the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act.”
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Several cities throughout the U.S. have also decriminalized psychedelic drugs, such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms.
Portugal was the first nation to decriminalize hard drugs when it allowed the private use of all substances more than two decades ago.