Illegal drugs

In Canada, illegal drugs are contributing to an increasing number of harms: overdoses from fentanyl and related substances, traffic collisions caused by drug-impaired driving, and gun violence associated with the illegal drug market, among others. The Government of Canada works to decrease both the supply of and demand for illegal substances, reduce harms when they are used, and prevent problematic use. The Government of Canada has been addressing substance use as a health issue first and foremost, while balancing public safety priorities.

Public Safety Canada supports efforts to address the import, production and distribution of illegal drugs through policy development, information sharing and coordination. The department works with many partners on issues related to illegal drugs in Canada:

Alternatives to Criminal Penalties for Simple Drug Possession

The toll of the overdose crisis, driven primarily by the toxic illegal drug supply, continues to devastate Canadian families and communities. Stigma and fear of criminalization related to substance use can cause some people to hide their drug use, take more risks, and may prevent them from seeking help. Canada is working to divert people who use drugs away from the criminal justice system and towards supportive and trusted relationships in health and social services.

In response to a request from the province of British Columbia (B.C.), the federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health has authorized that, from January 31, 2023 to January 31, 2026, adults (18 and over) in B.C. will not be subject to criminal charges for the possession of up to 2.5 grams of certain illegal drugs for personal use. Possession of any drug for the purposes of trafficking, production or export across or within Canada's borders remains a crime. This time-limited exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) is one additional tool as part of a comprehensive response to this public health crisis.

This exemption is the first of its kind in Canada. Throughout the exemption period, the federal government will work with British Columbia to ensure the exemption continues to strike the right balance between promoting public health and ensuring public safety. This expectation is outlined in the Letter of Requirements provided by the federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health to B.C.'s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

Drug Stigma Awareness Training Module

The Drug Stigma Awareness Training Module for law enforcement is offered free of charge to Canadian law enforcement personnel until 2022 and for a modest fee thereafter.

This course provides tools and reference material to support police interactions with people who use substances. It supports more effective policing by helping to reduce the stigma faced by people who use drugs that may prevent them from accessing the health and social services they need.

The training module was developed in partnership with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and the Canadian Police Knowledge Network.

Drug-Impaired Driving

Drugs, including cannabis, can impair driving abilities and increase the risk of getting into a car accident. In fact, impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal deaths and injuries in Canada. Police-reported data indicate that the proportion of drug-impaired driving incidents has increased from 2% of all impaired driving cases to over 8% in 2020 while, at the same time, the proportion of alcohol-impaired driving incidents was declining. You have options; plan ahead and get home safe.

Illegal Cannabis

The Government of Canada takes the issue of illegal cannabis seriously. Buying and consuming illegal cannabis means exposing yourself to potential legal, safety, and health-related consequences. Profits from illegal cannabis sales support criminal activities that harm our communities. Adults who meet the legal age requirement set by their province or territory and choose to consume cannabis are responsible for knowing what is legal and what is not. Protect yourself and your community by learning how to differentiate between legal and illegal products.  

Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)

The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) is Canada's policy on controlled substances. It takes an evidence-based approach and is led by Health Canada. It's founded on the pillars of harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

Public Safety Canada supports the enforcement pillar of the CDSS, in addition to measures to reduce the harms associated with substance use. Legislative changes that came into force in 2017 have increased law enforcement's ability to take early action against suspected illegal drug production and trafficking operations.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA)

As of 2017, devices that can be used to manufacture illegal drugs, such as pill presses and pill encapsulators, must be registered with Health Canada to be imported into Canada. This makes it harder for organized criminals to obtain devices to mass-produce counterfeit pills that often include fentanyl.

The Customs Act

Additionally, Canada's border officers can open international mail of any weight, should they have reasonable grounds to suspect the item may contain prohibited, controlled or regulated goods. This helps border officers stop highly potent fentanyl and its analogues from entering Canada, even in small quantities via letter mail.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act encourages people who witness or experience an overdose to call for emergency help, by providing some legal protection against charges for simple possession of a controlled substance and breaching conditions of:

Anyone who is at the scene when help arrives is also protected.

Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs

Public Safety Canada hosts a series of roundtables for the law enforcement community to discuss emerging drug threats, share information and explore potential solutions to the opioid overdose crisis and other challenges.

These events consider emerging drug issues from a law enforcement perspective. They also provide a forum to share best practices and identify actions that could support initiatives to address the illegal supply of drugs. They bring together:

Previous meeting summary reports:

National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS)

The National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) provides funding for community-based crime prevention projects. In addition, practical knowledge development and information sharing helps Canadian communities target those most at risk:

The NCPS targets specific priority crime issues such as drug-related crime, youth gangs, and gun violence.

International Cooperation

Public Safety Canada works with international partners to address illegal drug production and trafficking in drugs and precursor chemicals.

International Resources

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