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Ottawa: The federal government’s decision on British Columbia’s drug decriminalization threshold was based on police input, says Canada’s minister of mental health and addictions.
Drug users in B.C. who possess up to a cumulative 2.5 grams of illicit drugs for personal use will not be arrested or charged starting next year.
The threshold falls short of the 4.5 grams requested by the province and has been criticized as too low by some advocates who say entrenched drug users typically carry more.
The government received input from law enforcement across the country, including in B.C. and from the RCMP, Carolyn Bennett said in an interview.
Law enforcement showed that about 85 per cent of drug confiscations are of quantities less than two grams, she said.
The minister said the government will be watching closely to see whether people will continue to be charged or have their drugs confiscated if they are carrying over 2.5 grams.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the federal government has taken a science-based approach to moving drug addictions out of the criminal system and into the health system, but had to make sure the conditions were right before moving forward on decriminalization in B.C.
“How do you make sure police officers and the justice system is ready for this change? How do you make sure that organized crime doesn’t make a windfall off of this change?’’ Trudeau said.
Ben Perrin, criminal law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the federal government was told to take one approach to the threshold by people who use drugs and experts, and told another by police.
“They chose to go with what the police told them. I think that’s problematic,’’ said Perrin, who also wrote a recent book on Canada’s opioid crisis.
More accurate data to properly set a threshold would not be the average amount of drugs confiscated from people for personal use, but the average amount of drugs confiscated by people who are drug traffickers, he said.
Perrin also cautioned against accepting police data at face value, which was echoed by M-J Milloy, a research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use.
“We don’t know if those numbers are correct because, in fact, the police never share their data. And to be frank, the police have a long history of not being open and transparent with respect to their operations or the data that they collect,’’ said Milloy.
Perrin said he had requested data on the number of people that were charged with drug trafficking from the Vancouver Police Department.