Decriminalization of controlled substances for personal use


Vancouver Coastal Health prohibits self-management (injection, inhalation/smoking or other means) of illicit drugs in hospitals or hospital sites outside of designated overdose prevention services and sites.

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Information on decriminalization of small amounts of controlled substances for adults in B.C.

What is decriminalization?

On Nov. 1, 2021, following an earlier application by the City of Vancouver in consultation with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), B.C. applied to Health Canada for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. On May 31, 2022, Health Canada announced approval of BC’s request, with decriminalization coming into effect on January 31st, 2023. The approval is effective for three years, with renewal dependent on the results of a robust monitoring and evaluation framework.

Under the exemption, adults (18 years and older) can possess small amounts of certain controlled substances without being subject to criminal charges or seizures by law enforcement.  Under this exemption, controlled substances include:

  • Opioids (e.g. heroin, morphine, and fentanyl)
  • Crack and powder cocaine
  • Methamphetamine (e.g. meth)
  • MDMA (e.g. ecstasy)

The combined total of these substances must be equal to or less than 2.5 grams. Decriminalization is not legalization. In lieu of criminal penalties or seizures, police are providing resource cards with information on local harm reduction supports and treatment options. Referrals to services are voluntary and non-coercive. Fines, tickets or other administrative sanctions will not be issued. Trafficking above or below the threshold remains illegal.

For detailed information on the exemption, visit the Government of B.C.’s website.

Why is decriminalization important?

Substance use is a public health matter, not a criminal justice issue. The criminalization of people who use substances perpetuates stigma, creates barriers, and elevates the risk of death associated with the toxic drug crisis.

Services in the VCH region

VCH offers a range of services to support people who use substances. Our staff provide culturally safe, trauma informed and harm reduction based care. Some available services and supports include:

  • VCH overdose prevention sites and safe consumption sites- provide a safe non-judgmental place for people to use substances. For more information including a map of service locations, please visit VCH’s Overdose Prevention & Response website. 
  • Drug checking services- allow people to determine what is in their substances. For more information, please visit VCH’s Drug Checking website. 
  • Further support- if you need support accessing services in your community, please call: 1 (844) 290-4642. This phone is answered Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • 24/7 support- is available by calling 310-6789 (no area code).

Additional information on decriminalization

Additional information for members of the public and community partners is available on the B.C. Government’s website.