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:
- Portfolio Agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA);
- Health Canada and the Department of Justice;
- provincial, territorial, municipal, and international counterparts; and
- law enforcement and public health stakeholders.
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.
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.
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:
- pre-trial release;
- probation order;
- conditional sentence; or
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:
- serving law enforcement members;
- federal partners;
- provincial and territorial governments;
- international partners;
- Indigenous organizations; and
- people with lived and living experience of substance use.
Previous meeting summary reports:
- First Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs: Meeting Summary
- Second Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs: Meeting Summary
- Third Law Enforcement Roundtable on the Opioid Crisis: Meeting Summary
- Fourth Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs: Meeting Summary
- Fifth Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs: Meeting Summary
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:
- youth and young adults who show multiple risk factors related to offending behaviour;
- high-risk offenders in communities; and
- Indigenous and northern communities, especially those with high crime rates and persistent crime problems.
The NCPS targets specific priority crime issues such as drug-related crime, youth gangs, and gun violence.
Public Safety Canada works with international partners to address illegal drug production and trafficking in drugs and precursor chemicals.
- Canada works closely with the United States through the Joint Action Plan on Opioids. This builds on existing efforts to address the opioid overdose crisis, and to secure our border.
- Through the North American Drug Dialogue, Canada, the United States, and Mexico exchange information on drug trends, increase coordination on drug policy, and identify ways our governments can better protect our citizens from harmful illegal drugs. In November 2021, North American leaders committed to continue addressing these issues via venues like the North American Drug Dialogue in 2022 and beyond.
- Public Safety Canada participates in a number of multilateral forums, including the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), G7 Roma Lyon Group, and the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: World Drug Report 2021
- OAS (Organization of American States) – Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)
Illegal Drugs News Releases
Illegal Drugs Publications and Reports
- Public Safety and Cannabis: Taking Stock of Knowledge Since Legalization
- Fifth Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs
- Fourth Law Enforcement Roundtable on Drugs
- Fall 2019 Law Enforcement Roundtable on Illicit Drugs
- Steering Committee meeting of the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Opioids 2021
- More Illegal Drugs Publications and Reports
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