Operating Grant: Evaluation of the British Columbia Exemption to Allow for Personal Possession of Small Amounts of Illegal Drugs
Progress Report Summary – April 2023

Nominated Principal Investigator: Jürgen Rehm, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH); Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Matters (CRISM)– Ontario Node


On January 31, 2023, an exemption to subsection 56 (1) under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act came into effect for three years within the Province of British Columbia (BC). As a result, adults aged 18 years or older will no longer be subject to criminal charges for the possession of a cumulative total of 2.5 grams or less of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA for personal use.

The Evaluation of the British Columbia Exemption to Allow for Personal Possession of Small Amounts of Illegal Drugs funding opportunity was designed to address the harm reduction approach to the overdose crisis through rigorous evaluation efforts to fill key knowledge gaps on the impacts of the exemption in the Canadian context.

The Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Matters (CRISM) is a national network with five regional Nodes, consisting of hundreds of researchers, service providers, policy makers and people with lived and living experience with substance use. To leverage the extensive infrastructure and expertise of CRISM, the Nominated Principal Applicant to this funding opportunity had to be a member of the CRISM network.

The funded team is required to submit semi-annual (every six months) knowledge mobilization reports to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), including an end-of-grant report. CIHR will post summaries of these reports on its website to provide real-time progress updates and research findings accessible to knowledge users and all Canadians.

Progress Summary: October 2022 – March 2023

Prior to the policy coming into effect, the research team conducted 45 qualitative interviews with people who use drugs (PWUD) in BC to understand their views on decriminalization, including potential advantages or disadvantages of the policy. The study highlighted a range of factors that could impact the policy’s effectiveness. For example, findings outlined that the current limit of 2.5 grams is too low, does not align with PWUD drug use habits, and will have an economic impact on PWUD. The paper is currently undergoing peer review for publication in an academic journal.

The research team developed a first draft of the logic model and corresponding evaluation design, and an expert committee of national and international drug policy researchers and specialists was formed to provide feedback and recommendations on these products. A meeting was held to discuss the feedback and inform the final design of the evaluation and logic model. Additionally, the research team established connections and initiated data-sharing agreements with BC collaborators for particular sub-projects of the evaluation.

The team’s next steps include creating terms of reference, conflict of interest forms, and other agreements for data sharing and collaboration with key partners. The team will establish an Advisory Board comprised of international and national experts and people with lived experience with drug use to provide oversight of the evaluation. The team will also establish Working Groups comprised of regional and topical experts and people with lived experience who will support each respective sub-project from inception to dissemination. Protocols for the sub-projects commencing in the evaluation’s first year will be drafted and submitted to respective institutions for research ethics board approval.

The team will continue to build relationships, collaborate with various organizations and researchers to support recruitment efforts and hire personnel to help with the work.

The next update from the team is expected in Fall 2023.

For More Information

Additional information about this project can be found online.

More information on CIHR’s Research in Substance Use initiative can be found online or email rsu-rst@cihr-irsc.gc.ca..

For more information, visit CIHR’s Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction or email INMHA-INSMT@cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

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