As of Tuesday, January 31, B.C. has launched a 3-year pilot program which decriminalizes possession of up to 2.5 grams of opioids like fentanyl, heroin or morphine, crack and powder cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA for people aged 18 and older.
The program is an important step in combating the overdose crisis felt in British Columbia. The program’s goal is to reduce the shame and stigma attached to drug use so people will feel more comfortable seeking help. That stigma is a key reason for many people hiding their drug use, causing them to use drugs alone, which often leads to fatal overdoses because there is no one available to provide naloxone or call for help. More information about the decriminalization model can be found here.
The Saskatchewan government stated that there are no plans to follow B.C.’s lead by implementing a similar program.
“B.C. gets to be the guinea pig, if you like, for this pilot project with the federal government,” Saskatchewan Minister for Justice Bronwyn Eyre said in December 2022 after the plan was announced. source
Brooke Kruger, "Saskatchewan continues talk about drug decriminalization following start of B.C. trial" Global News, January 31, 2023
The statement cites the unknown potential long-term effects of illicit drug decriminalization on public safety as one of the main reasons for not instituting a similar program. Saskatchewan is instead committed to funding addictions and treatment programming and services throughout the province over the next three years. This measured approach is a positive sign, because the groundwork must be in place for decriminalization to be successful. This is supported by Regina Police Service (RPS) Chief Evan Bray, who said decriminalization must be paired with robust harm reduction services.
The Clock is Ticking
Saskatchewan has seen a steady increase in drug overdose deaths since 2014.
In 2022, a record 421 people in Saskatchewan died due to drug overdose, according to a Drug Toxicity Report released last month. That number has seen an increase over the past nine years.
In 2021, 410 people died from overdoses, up from 325 in 2020. Two years prior, 172 overdose deaths were recorded in 2018.
According to statistics provided by the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, 2014 was the last year the overdose crisis didn’t worsen, going from 88 in 2013 to 85 the year following. source
Keenan Sorokan, "Saskatchewan not planning to decriminalize drug possession" CTV News Saskatoon, February 1, 2023