"Our study also underscores the importance of recognizing the long history of uncertainty, punitive actions, and negative experiences with police among people who use drugs. Decriminalization in BC and implementation among police has important implications regarding building trust between people who use drugs, the community, and law enforcement. While there is the potential to reduce stigmatization and criminalization against people who use drugs, the discretionary power of law enforcement will play a large role in achieving these outcomes. Given the fear of police discretion and subsequent criminalization, the enforcement of the 2.5g threshold by police will be pivotal in reducing criminal penalties for people who use drugs in BC. Participants feared that some cities, particularly rural and remote or Northern and more isolated locations, would still experience criminalization for their drug use, and this was especially noted for marginalized and racialized populations and rural/remote communities. These sentiments have been noted in previous qualitative research on decriminalization where people who use drugs in Australia expressed concerns about how discretionary practices by police would impact the ways in which the policy is implemented, and called for clearly defined law enforcement measures to eliminate any discrepancies or grey areas in enforcement . In Canada, previous reforms to drug policy, such as the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, were ultimately undermined by a lack of knowledge and implementation among police, who continued to arrest individuals for possession despite the decriminalization of simple possession at overdose events [32, 33]. This policy had a number of shortcomings, such as ambiguity around police’s discretion when encountering people with drug paraphernalia on them or those who had outstanding warrants for their arrest, demonstrating the importance of recognizing the potential harms that shortsighted policies combined with continued use of police discretion may result in.
"Although study participants, people who use drugs and their allies have called for a more hands-off approach and an overall decentralization of police involvement in drug use, citing major concerns in relation to police use of discretion, as it stands, the policy and the 2.5g threshold will continue to be enforced by police . Therefore, police knowledge on decriminalization and its goals, as well as training, will likely play a direct role in how police apply their discretion during enforcement of the policy. As part of the policy implementation plan, the BC MMHA have incorporated different phases of robust police training starting with Phase 1 in November 2022, and Phase 2 launching in Summer 2023 . While the specifics of the training modules are not publicly available yet, the implementation paths allude to the importance and need for tailored and targeted police training measures. These training measures should incorporate awareness and education on different substance use practices and profiles that may criminalize people who use drugs who are polysubstance users, or who carry more than the allocated threshold because of location, tolerance, need, or accessibility. Frontline law enforcement officers must be made aware of established service pathways to be able to support people who use drugs, and adjunct health system improvements will need to be implemented to strengthen these connections and the capacity of services to provide support. Furthermore, under the MMHA plan, it is imperative that appropriate resources, training, and education are provided to inform police on how to engage with people who use drugs from different communities, guided by a public health and anti-stigma lens. If law enforcement officers are trained on how to identify different drugs, the ways in which drugs are commonly sold and packaged, and the various patterns of use among polysubstance users, then they may be able to exercise more appropriate discretion when applying the 2.5g threshold during an interaction with people who use drugs. As part of the policy, police will be mandated to provide resource cards with information on local health and social services to people who use drugs who request them, and provide referrals to these organizations upon request . These connections will also be key to the policy’s objectives, and if done correctly and appropriately, can reduce stigma, and facilitate access to treatment or harm reduction services . However, extant research suggests that even in situations where police have de-penalized simple possession, the ways in which this is enforced can vary and can result in significant inconsistencies, inequities, and harms, including net widening effects ."
Ali F, Russell C, Greer A, Bonn M, Werb D, Rehm J. "2.5 g, I could do that before noon": a qualitative study on people who use drugs' perspectives on the impacts of British Columbia's decriminalization of illegal drugs threshold limit. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2023;18(1):32. Published 2023 Jun 15. doi:10.1186/s13011-023-00547-w