BC’s Big U-Turn on Drug Decriminalization: What Went Wrong?

Last Updated: June 19, 2024By

BC’s Big U-Turn on Drug Decriminalization: What Went Wrong?


British Columbia has done a complete 180 on its bold move to decriminalize certain illicit drugs in public. This experiment aimed to tackle addiction and reduce drug-related harm, but it’s now facing a rollback due to rising frustration and “disorder” across the province.

What Happened?

Premier David Eby announced that he asked the federal government to bring back a ban on public drug use. But don’t worry, folks—personal possession and consumption will still be allowed in private places.

Eby emphasized, “Our top priority is keeping people safe. We care deeply for those struggling with addiction, but we can’t tolerate street disorder that makes our communities feel unsafe.”

The Original Plan

Back in 2023, BC kicked off this three-year experiment. It wasn’t about legalizing drugs but decriminalizing small amounts. This move was seen as a radical shift away from punishing people for drug use and towards understanding addiction as a health issue.

Canada’s health minister at the time believed this could be a model for other places. The provincial health officer hoped it would curb the spiraling overdose crisis in BC.

The Rationale Behind Decriminalization

Eby explained that the decriminalization project aimed to remove the stigma from addiction. The goal was to encourage people to seek help without the fear of arrest or a criminal record hanging over them.

But things didn’t go as planned.


Growing Concerns

Experts warned that just decriminalizing possession wouldn’t fix the problem of tainted drugs. Public frustration grew as open drug use became more visible and the death toll from overdoses kept rising. The government started getting heat for being too soft on drug users.

Eby admitted, “Sometimes, tough love is needed.”

Reversing the Course

BC had an exemption under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but now they’ve asked to roll back key parts of it. While you can still possess 2.5g of drugs like cocaine, meth, MDMA, and fentanyl in private spaces, police will soon have the power to seize drugs and make arrests in public spaces when necessary.

Mike Farnworth, the provincial minister of public safety, stated, “People are dying from deadly street drugs. We need to address public use and street disorder. We’re going after gangs and criminals trafficking toxic drugs and making it illegal to use drugs in public spaces. We’re also expanding access to treatment.”

The Backlash

Not everyone is on board with this reversal. Advocacy groups are vocal about their disappointment.

“BC never gave #decrim a fair chance. It’s blamed for social issues stemming from policy failures leading to a housing crisis and poverty,” Moms Stop the Harm posted on X. “Instead of addressing the real issues, Eby found a convenient scapegoat. Our loved ones die.”

A Broader Look

To add some context, let’s consider the broader impacts of drug policies. Around the world, places like Portugal have seen success with decriminalization by pairing it with robust social and health services. Could BC’s approach have succeeded with more comprehensive support systems? It’s worth pondering.

Moving Forward

So, what’s next for BC? The province must balance compassion for those with addiction and maintaining public order. This reversal is a step towards addressing public concerns, but it also raises questions about the best way to handle the complex issue of drug addiction.

The journey continues, with many hoping for a solution that addresses the root causes of addiction while keeping communities safe. The conversation is far from over, and the province’s next steps will be watched closely by all.


Q: Can people still possess small amounts of drugs in BC?
A: Yes, but only in private spaces like homes and safe injection sites.

Q: Why is BC reversing its decriminalization policy?
A: Due to rising public frustration and disorder related to open drug use.

Q: What was the original goal of decriminalization?
A: To remove the stigma from addiction and encourage people to seek help without fear of arrest.

Q: How are advocacy groups reacting to this change?
A: Many are critical, saying the policy was never given a fair chance and blaming broader social issues for the problems.

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