Health Ministers on overdose crisis


Amendment request granted to British Columbia for the subsection 56(1) exemption from Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Law enforcement in B.C. will have the authority to seize drugs, and arrest or charge for personal possession of under 2.5 grams in certain locations frequented by children and youth

Ottawa – Canada is facing an unrelenting and tragic toxic drug and overdose crisis. No community has been left untouched. The impacts are seen and felt among our friends, our family, and our neighbours. Over the past years, enormous efforts and unprecedented actions have been taken by governments, healthcare professionals, harm reduction programs, researchers, and law enforcement to address this crisis.

It became clear we needed to consider innovative solutions. As part of a comprehensive public health response to this crisis, our government granted British Columbia’s request for a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) so that adults in the province would not be subject to criminal charges for personal possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs.

As the first exemption of its kind in Canada, rigorous monitoring was put into place with the province of B.C. to monitor impacts and make adjustments as needed to ensure the exemption continues to protect the health and safety of British Columbians. Through their ongoing work, B.C. requested to amend the personal possession exemption by adding spaces where it no longer applies. This includes outdoor playgrounds, spray pools and wading pools, and skate parks, to ensure child and community spaces continue to remain safe.

I am granting B.C.’s request to amend the exemption, which will come into effect on September 18, 2023. This is a key step in ensuring people feel safe in their communities, while continuing to support some of the most vulnerable populations. This change means law enforcement will have the authority to seize drugs, as well as arrest and charge for personal possession of any amount of any controlled substance at these locations. This will ensure that law enforcement has the tools they need to address public drug use concerns and so that people continue to feel safe in their communities.

Our government recognizes the work B.C. has been doing across the full continuum of care to address the toxic drug crisis, from prevention and harm reduction to treatment and recovery. We remain committed to working collaboratively with the Government of B.C., law enforcement and other stakeholders to support the implementation of this exemption, and will continue to make adjustments as necessary.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventing or reducing overdose deaths. We know that more needs to be done across the country and we must continue to support evidence-based initiatives that protect the health and safety of all Canadians.

We must also continue to reduce stigma and substance use harms, while also working with jurisdictions, to save lives and end this crisis. We want people who use drugs to be able to talk to family and friends and seek support, without these barriers and to seek support the way they need, when they are ready to do so.

Together, we will continue to work toward addressing and ending the toxic drug and overdose crisis, so that no more families, friends or communities will lose a loved one.