"In 2006, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), the police force within the city of Vancouver in British Columbia (BC), Canada, formalized its drug policy and endorsed harm reduction as a core pillar of its strategy, alongside prevention, treatment, and law enforcement [5]. The policy encouraged the de facto depenalization of simple possession by restricting enforcement to circumstances where people are engaged in public drug use or other behaviour that the VPD believed may harm others [5], which would notably sustain roles for policing in the lives of PWUD. Similarly, in August 2020, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada released guidelines that direct prosecutors to limit the criminal prosecution of simple possession offences to the most serious manifestations of the offence (e.g. where there is a safety risk to others) [6]. Although the VPD’s published data are limited, available data indeed indicate low and declining levels of enforcement between 2016 and 2019, with recommended charges for simple possession having decreased by 67% from 109 to 36 cases [7].

"Despite VPD’s depenalization policy regarding simple possession, officers are still afforded broad enforcement discretion, including with respect to drug possession [5]. For example officers may use their ‘professional judgement’ to enforce drug seizures with or without making an arrest [5]. While anecdotal reports suggest that the police practice of drug seizure is commonplace and a driver of harm among people who use drugs (PWUD) [8], such discretionary practice is not fully captured in the VPD’s published data [9], limiting our understanding of how VPD’s policy of depenalization has been implemented at the street level."


Hayashi K, Singh Kelsall T, Shane C, et al. Police seizure of drugs without arrest among people who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada, before provincial 'decriminalization' of simple possession: a cohort study. Harm Reduct J. 2023;20(1):117. Published 2023 Aug 30. doi:10.1186/s12954-023-00833-7