One Canadian province has managed to secure an exemption from the nation’s drug laws despite the province staring down a massive and still growing drug crisis.

The province in question, British Columbia, was able to secure an exemption from Canada’s “Controlled Drugs and Substances Act,” which, in essence, fully decriminalizes the possession of a small amount of illegal drugs. This particular exemption allows for the drug users of the province to have certain illegal drugs for personal use, up to a total of 2.5 grams, before they start to see criminal charges. This move is taking place despite Canada, and especially British Columbia, is stuggling its way through a growing crisis with opioids, but the province actually this crisis is exactly why it is attempting to secure the exemption it has requested.

“The federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health granted the province of British Columbia (BC)’s request for a subsection 56(1) exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for adults (18 years of age and older) in the province to possess small amounts of certain illegal drugs for personal use,” released the Canadian federal government in a statement. “What this means is that from January 31, 2023 to January 31, 2026, adults (18 and over) in BC will not be subject to criminal charges for the possession of a cumulative total of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use. Instead, all individuals found in possession of substances listed in the exemption of up to 2.5 grams for personal use will, at minimum, be provided with information on available local health and social services. They can also be provided with assistance to connect with those services if requested. The exemption only covers possession for personal use by adults (18 and over) in BC with no intent to traffic, produce or export.”

The exemption that was given is slated to cover a total of four types of drugs: opioids, including fentanyl, morphine, and heroin; cocaine, including both crack and powder; methamphetamine; and MDMA, aka ecstasy or molly. It will protect all adults across the entire province, with the prime exceptions of near elementary and high schools, airports, licensed child care facilities, and Canadian Coast Guard vessels or aircraft, in which the laws will still apply fully. It also does not have any effect on the trafficking laws concerning the moveing of drugs between provinces, and a series of special restrictions are slated to apply for public transit, watercraft, and motor vehicles.

The province requested the exemption as a piece of its “comprehensive public health response” to the growing issue with stimulants and opioids across the province. “British Columbia has been greatly impacted by overdose deaths and related harms, and declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016,” claimed government officials.

As uncovered via a recent study conducted by the government, opioid and stimulant-related overdose deaths rose drastically between 2020 and 2021. Between April 2019 and March 2020, there were a total of 3,711 opioid or stimulent related deaths in Canada; between April 2020 and March 2021, there were 7,224 deaths, a 95% increase.

“Comprehensive monitoring and evaluation from the federal government will help to inform whether the exemption is contributing to the comprehensive approach to reduce stigma and harms related to substance use and increase access to health and social services for people who use drugs,” stated the government in its release. “Substance use is a public health issue that is shaped by complex factors, many of which can be beyond an individual’s control. As mental health and substance use among Canadians have worsened throughout the pandemic, it is clear that solutions to the overdose crisis must consider broader health and social issues.”