Illegal Drugs

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The high profitability of the illegal drug trade, and the market for highly toxic synthetic drugs in particular, is a key driver of substance-related harms in Canada. It also fuels organized crime and perpetuates illicit financing, and gives rise to gun and gang violence, which harms our communities and quality of life.

The Government of Canada is working to decrease both the supply of and demand for illegal substances, reduce harms when they are used, and prevent drug dependance. 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 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 December 2023 and for a modest fee thereafter. This course provides tools and reference material to support police interactions with people who use substances. It supports efforts to reduce the stigma faced by people who use drugs that may prevent them from accessing the health and social services they need.

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 and drug-impaired driving detected by law enforcement is increasing. The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol. You have options; plan ahead and get home safe.

Illegal Cannabis

Choosing illegal cannabis means exposing yourself to potential health, safety, legal and financial 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 can protect themselves and their community by learning how to differentiate between legal and illegal products.

Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy

The Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS) is Canada's policy on controlled substances. The strategy is focused on four integrated action areas:

Public Safety Canada supports the substance controls objectives of the CDSS by working to address organized crime involvement in the production and trafficking of toxic illegal drugs and by supporting first response.  

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

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 has hosted 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 considered emerging drug issues from a law enforcement perspective. They also provided 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:

Crime Prevention

Investments in community-based crime prevention initiatives help to protect public safety by targeting drug-related crime, youth gangs and gun violence.

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 Building Safer Communities Fund (BSCF) provides funding to municipalities and Indigenous communities to support gang-prevention and intervention programs for gang members and at-risk children and youth. The amount of BSCF support for a community is based on crime severity and population density.

International Cooperation

Canada works with its international partners to align efforts to address each link of the illegal drug supply chain, in addition to considering all available options to reduce demand, improve health outcomes and save lives.

The primary frameworks of cooperation are:

Canada-U.S. Opioids Action Plan

The Canada-U.S. Opioids Action Plan (OAP) is designed to strengthen cross-border cooperation and find effective approaches to addressing the opioid overdose crisis. Established in 2020, the two countries recommitted to the OAP in 2021, as part of the Roadmap for a Renewed Canada-U.S. Partnership. Through the OAP, Canada and the United States collaborate across three working groups covering law enforcement, border security, and health.

North American Drug Dialogue

The North American Drug Dialogue (NADD) is the primary mechanism through which Canada, Mexico and the United States coordinate their response to the continent's illegal drug threats. It was formed during the North American Leaders' Summit 2016. The NADD partners collaborate to understand and address: the supply chain of illegal synthetic drugs; drug trafficking modes and methods; illicit finance; and public health approaches to substance use.

North American Trilateral Fentanyl Committee

Led by high-level representatives from Canada, Mexico and the United States, the Committee guides priority actions to address the illegal fentanyl threat facing North America. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Andres Manuel López Obrador and President Joe Biden directed its formation during the North American Leaders' Summit 2023.

Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats

The Coalition brings together like-minded countries to strengthen the coordinated global response to the international public health and safety challenges posed by illegal synthetic drugs at the national and international levels, in accordance with applicable international law, including the International Drug Control Conventions.

Other forums

Canada participates in a number of other multilateral forums to address illegal drugs, including the Organization of American States' Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), G7 Experts' Group on Transnational Organized Crime and Terrorism (the Roma- Lyon Group), and the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

International Resources

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