In May 2022, the Province of BC was granted a three-year exemption from Health Canada under Section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to permit adults to possess up to 2.5 grams of illicit drugs, thus decriminalizing illicit substances for personal use, effective as of January 31st, 2023.
The policy has a number of short- and long-term goals, with the following overarching objectives:
1) Address criminalization as a social determinant of health
2) Reduce stigma and harms related to substance use, which are exacerbated by criminalization
3) Remove structural barriers and increase support and access to health services for people who use drugs
Whether the policy can successfully achieve these goals is likely dependent on the implementation of complementary initiatives including bolstering health system navigation and pathways, housing investments, improving access to a non-toxic substance supply, etc. It will be important to evaluate decriminalization in order to gain an understanding of its impacts.
In July 2022, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) granted the Ontario Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM) node (OCRINT) a five-year operating grant to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the decriminalization policy. The evaluation must focus on the impacts within four main areas of research 1) People who use drugs (PWUD), 2) The general population, 3) Police forces and the criminal justice system, and 4) The economic impacts. The goal of this five-year mixed-methods project, complete with a number of interrelated sub-studies, will be to gain an understanding of the full impacts of decriminalization of illicit substances for personal possession in BC, including any unintended consequences. The evaluation will shed light on this novel drug policy experiment, which is the first of its kind in Canada and can help further the evidence base for similar drug policy reforms in other provinces and beyond the Canadian experience.
The final evaluation design consists of several interconnected sub-studies. More information about the sub-studies can be found here:
Qualitative Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization on People Who Use Drugs (PWUD)
Qualitative Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization on Police
Quantitative Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization on Health and Criminal Justice Outcomes
Public Opinion Poll (POP) Survey on the Impact of Decriminalization on the General Public
Mixed-Methods Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization on Harm Reduction and Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) Services
Economic Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization
More information regarding the project team can be found here:
Core Evaluation Research Team
Nominal Group Technique (NGT) Board