By Richard Zussman - Global News,

British Columbia is asking the federal government to grant the province an exemption under federal law to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

If the request is granted B.C. would become the first jurisdiction in Canada with the exemption.

B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson sent a letter to Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Feb. 3 formally asking for the exemption. The request is in line with Premier John Horgan’s repeated calls for the federal government to decriminalize small amounts of illicit drugs.

“Although B.C. has made significant progress implementing a wide-ranging overdose response, people who use drugs continue to face obstacles accessing these services. In particular, the stigma around drug use along with the fear of criminal sanctions are barriers preventing people from accessing life-saving services,” Malcolmson writes.

“I look forward to working with you on this important initiative, and the many other ways we can work together to help save lives.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a growing number overdose deaths in the province. B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe is scheduled to provide an update on Thursday of how many people died of illicit drug deaths in 2020.