Small amounts of some drugs temporarily decriminalized in British Columbia amid opioid crisis

Small amounts of certain drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth will be decriminalized in British Columbia starting next year as the province grapples with rising opioid deaths. 

Beginning Jan. 23 and going through Jan. 23, 2026, residents in British Columbia who have up to 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine or MDMA, also known as ecstasy, will not be arrested or face charges of possession of those drugs, according to the Canadian government.

The exemption is only applicable for British Columbia residents at least 18 years old. Possession of those drugs in certain areas, such as licensed child care facilities and airports, are not covered by the exemption.

Criminal charges are still applicable to those who carry higher amounts of the drugs.

The British Columbia government said in their own press release that police will offer assistance such as referrals for treatment for those who ask for it and provide additional information about social and health support resources.

Officials are hoping the policy change will direct more of those affected by the opioid crisis to get help. The province declared opioid addiction as a public health emergency in 2016.

“Eliminating criminal penalties for those carrying small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use will reduce stigma and harm and provide another tool for British Columbia to end the overdose crisis,” said Carolyn Bennett, the Canadian minister mental health and addictions who approved British Columbia’s move to decriminalize small amounts of the drugs.

The development comes against the backdrop of high opioid deaths in Canada. Data from the government shows that there was a 95 percent increase in opioid deaths in the first year of the pandemic, April 2020 to March 2021, compared to the year prior.

Between January 2021 and September 2021 alone, “88% of all accidental apparent opioid toxicity deaths occurred in British Columbia, Alberta, or Ontario,” according to the Canadian government.