Personal possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs in British Columbia


May 07, 2024

Original exemption

On January 31, 2023, a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) related to personal possession of certain controlled substances came into effect in the province of British Columbia (BC). After a thorough assessment, this exemption was granted by the federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health to support the province in implementing its comprehensive public health response to the overdose crisis. The pilot project was planned to be in effect until January 31, 2026.

Under the original exemption, adults aged 18 years of age and older in BC could not be arrested or charged for the possession of a cumulative amount of up to 2.5 grams of opioids (e.g. heroin, morphine, and fentanyl), cocaine (including crack and powder cocaine), methamphetamine (meth), or MDMA (ecstasy) for personal use. Exceptions to this exemption were included so that it did not apply in places where the provincial and federal government determined that personal possession would create undue public safety concerns (e.g. airports, daycares, schools, etc.).

As the first exemption of its kind in Canada, ongoing monitoring was conducted to inform whether it contributed to its objectives, which included reducing stigma and substance use harms and increasing access to health and social services for people who use drugs in BC.

Amendment – September 2023

In September 2023, at the request of British Columbia, the original exemption was amended to prohibit possession in additional areas designed primarily for youth including, within 15 metres of a public outdoor playground, spray pool or wading pool, or skate park. This came into effect on September 18, 2023.

BC’s request to prohibit possession of controlled substances in public spaces

Since the exemption came into effect in January 2023, a number of BC municipalities, law enforcement officials, health sector workers, and community members have raised concerns about increasing public drug use and that law enforcement does not have tools to address public drug use.

On April 26, 2024, BC submitted an amendment request to address these concerns. As of May 7, 2024, we are granting BC’s request to prohibit possession of controlled substances in public spaces. 

Exemptions will continue to apply in private residences, healthcare clinics as designated by the province of BC, places where people 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.

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