Small drug seizures down in Vancouver post-decriminalization, police say

  • Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Data from Vancouver police shows a "dramatic" drop in small drug seizures after decriminalization came into effect in British Columbia last year.

The department says during the first nine months of the program officers did not seize any drugs under 2.5 grams, as is outlined in Health Canada’s three−year exemption.

It says all drug possession seizures, regardless of weight, dropped 76 per cent in the city compared with the previous four−year average for the same time period.

The exemption began Jan. 31, 2023, and decriminalizes possession of small amounts of opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, as well as cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA, in quantities of 2.5 grams or less.

One of the key goals of the program was to reduce the stigma on drug users amid an overdose crisis that has claimed almost 14,000 lives in B.C. since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

Insp. Phil Heard, who oversees the department’s drug unit, says all front−line officers took part in online training before the pilot and all new recruits are required to do the same.

He says the department believes in a health−led approach over a criminal justice approach to the overdose crisis, adding that officers had rarely made arrests before decriminalization, "unless there were aggravating factors."

"Still, there were times when police were required by law to seize and destroy small amounts of illicit substances from drug users which we recognize often led to unintended harms," he said in a news release Tuesday. "Thankfully, the Health Canada exemption has eliminated these requirements."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.

The Canadian Press