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B.C advocates push back as Health Canada mulls lower-than-requested legal drug possession

Advocates say 2.5 gram threshold being considered isn’t evidenced based
Curtis Traverse, right, comforts his girlfriend Hope as they listen to speeches in memory of those who died from a suspected illicit drug overdose, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, February 9, 2022. The B.C. Coroners Service announced that 2,224 people died from a suspected illicit drug overdose in 2021. The Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and B.C. Association of People on Opiate Maintenance distributed a tested supply of illicit drugs to users after the gathering in a call for a safer drug supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Drug decriminalization advocates are questioning what evidence Health Canada is basing its decisions on, after it was revealed Wednesday (April 6) that the government agency is considering close to halving the amount of drugs B.C. requested people be able to carry on them legally.

The province applied for an exemption in October 2021, requesting a 4.5-gram cumulative drug possession threshold. On Wednesday, B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said she’d received an update from Health Canada that it is considering a 2.5-gram cumulative threshold instead.

The suggestion goes against all the evidence groups have gathered on the amount people who use drugs realistically need to purchase and use in an average day, Pivot Legal Society lawyer Caitlin Shane said.

The society is one of the groups that worked with B.C. to develop its Health Canada request, and Shane said all their evidence pointed to a 4.5-gram cumulative threshold being on the conservative side. For individuals who have a higher tolerance or live in rural or remote areas and buy large quantities of drugs at one time, 2.5 grams is laughable.

READ ALSO: Health Canada mulls lower threshold for drug decriminalization: B.C. minister

Brittany Graham, an advocate with Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), said when people heard the 2.5 gram number they told her, “That’s something I would eat for breakfast.”

Because it’s common for people to purchase drugs in “eight balls,” or 3.5 gram amounts, Graham said it could be hard for people to judge whether they have an allowable amount on them or not. Carrying a scale could result in a charge for possession of drug paraphernalia.

And, for people who need larger quantities to get by, the lower threshold would be doing them no favours, Graham said. Issues around stigma and using alone would remain.

Both Graham and Shane agree the mere consideration of a lower threshold highlights a huge disconnect between the people making policy and those who’s lives could be saved by it. It also makes clear whose opinions hold the most weight, they said.

“I think it really speaks to the persistent stigma against people who use drugs and the influence that police have had from start to finish,” Shane said. She said police have consistently pushed for a lower threshold.

“My sense is that there’s been a very persistent fear among the government to actually stand up to police,” she said.

The decision isn’t final yet though. Graham and Shane said they’re hopeful they’ll have the chance to speak with Health Canada, present their evidence and argue their case.

“We’re hoping they’re not only going to hear them (people who use drugs) but actually listen to what people are saying,” Graham said.

In the meantime, Shane said she’d like to see an evidence-based explanation from Health Canada on how it came to the 2.5-gram number.

Black Press Media has reached out to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for comment.

READ ALSO: 6 people died per day from B.C.’s toxic drug supply last year


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media.
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