"During the 16-month study period between June 2019 and November 2021 (June 2019–mid-March 2020 and June 2021–November 2021), 6% of our sample of people who used drugs daily in Vancouver reported having had their drugs seized by police without arrest at least once in the past 6 months. When examining the historical trends of annual prevalence, we found a declining trend in reports of drug seizure from 7% in 2009 to 3% in 2012, while the prevalence between June 2019 and mid-March 2020 and between June and November of 2021 (4–5%) remained essentially the same as the annual prevalence in 2011–2012. However, overall, the odds of drug seizure were not significantly different between the two time periods (2019–2021 vs. 2009–2012).

"The low documented numbers of recommended charges for simple possession by the VPD [Vancouver Police Department] are often cited to indicate success of VPD’s de facto depenalization policy [24]. Certainly, recommended charges for simple possession and drug seizure without arrest are two distinct practices and not directly comparable; however, given that statistics regarding the former are almost the only data used to assess the extent of depenalization, it is worth examining the potential discrepancy between the two to deepen our understanding of street-level drug law enforcement activities. For example, in 2019, VPD recommended 36 charges for simple possession to Crown Counsel [7]. In contrast, in our study, participants reported experiencing at least 35 drug seizures by police during the 6 months prior to their interview date between June and December 2019. The number of unique events was much higher than 35 given that a substantial portion of participants (approx. 45% of those who reported the number of occurrences of police seizure of drugs) experienced having their drugs seized more than once during the same 6-month period. These findings corroborate previous anecdotal reports [8] and show that drug seizure without arrest occurs more frequently than the VPD’s recommended charges for simple possession.

"Some negative consequences of criminal justice involvement may be avoided by police not recommending charges for simple possession. However, we found that more than two-thirds of PWUD [People Who Use Drugs] who were interviewed in 2009–2012 obtained more drugs immediately after police seized their drugs. These findings suggest that this policing practice may still lead to health and safety harms for PWUD. For example a previous qualitative study that interviewed PWUD in 2017 described that police seizure of drugs inadvertently promoted the creation of drug debts and increased the risk of drug market violence among PWUD [11]. Some PWUD were also forced to refill their drug supply hastily from an unknown unregulated drug market worker especially when experiencing withdrawal [11, 25]. Each time an individual has to return to the unregulated market, especially if accessing drugs from an unknown source, they are increasing their risk of fatal or non-fatal overdose. In this regard, drug seizure essentially ‘mimics the health and safety harms associated with criminalization’ [15], undermining the intended benefits of the VPD’s depenalization policy. Of concern, a previous qualitative study reported that some police officers in BC believed that seizure of drugs is ‘beneficial for preventing harms, including overdose’, though it was not made clear whether it referred to VPD officers or other officers in BC or both [26]."


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