The Canadian government will have to officially respond to a petition calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics after it garnered nearly 15,000 signatures—and there’s legislation in the works that could make the policy change happen.
The petition, which is not binding but must be sponsored by a member of Parliament, discusses the historical use of entheogenic plants and fungi and the therapeutic potential of those substances.
It states that the government should “immediately discontinue enforcement of statutes or regulations that prohibit or impose onerous restrictions on informed adult use, growing, or sharing of any plant or fungi, where an established record of traditional use exists.”
Additionally, legislators should amend federal drug laws to “distinguish and exempt these organisms when used for therapeutic practices, as adjuncts to medical care, for healing ceremonies or solitary spiritual growth and self-development,” it says.
The deadline to join the petition passed last week, with 14,910 signatures. That’s the eighth-highest number of signatures an official government petition has received this Parliament.
But while this document focuses on psychedelics, the sponsor who agreed to attach his name to it, MP Paul Manly of the Green Party, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that rather than introduce new legislation on the issue, he will continue to support a broader bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs.
That measure did not advance last session, but it’s been reintroduced by MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith of the Liberal party.
Manly said his interest in drug reform comes from personal experience. The lawmaker said that when he was a professional musician he saw rampant substance misuse issues upfront. A friend was incarcerated over a drug offense and then raped in prison, for example, and a cousin he was close with developed a mental health condition and cycled through the criminal justice system before ultimately dying from an opioid overdose.
“I see what the opioid crisis is doing to families, to work colleagues, to friends,” Manly said. “Everybody is touched by it in some way, some people more directly than others.”
Because the decriminalization petition surpassed the minimum 500-signature threshold, it will be formally read in the House of Commons some time after the session starts on September 23. Once it’s read, the government will then have 45 days to issue a response. Manly said the petition process primarily serves as an “expression of democratic will.”
“We need to have serious discussions about what legislation looks like for decriminalization,” he said. “I’m actually in favor of full legalization and just taking the drugs out of the hands of organized criminals and regulating them properly. That’s what the government’s role should be, and this current form of trying to regulate through the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and criminalization has not worked.”
Trevor Millar, who introduced the petition and serves as the board chair of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies (MAPS) Canada and the executive director of the Canadian Psychedelic Association, told Marijuana Moment that it was meant to serve as an “educational vehicle.”
“We’re going to continue the education, plus we’re going to start doing some lobbying and reaching out to more politicians and helping to educate them around the potential benefits for some of these medicines around the mental health crisis in particular,” he said, adding that he feels decriminalization is achievable “within the next couple of years.”
“I think a tipping point could easily happen. I’ve been professionally involved in this therapeutic psychedelic space for almost 10 years now, and right now we’re about 10 years ahead of where I thought we would be five years ago,” he said. “I just see the conversation is changing so quickly, and it’s not like these are far-fetched ideas.”
“Prohibition has never worked. The war on drugs is an abject failure. There is a mental health crisis that’s happening right now. And I have seen so many transformations using these plant medicines that, you know, you could use the word ‘miraculous’ if you didn’t understand the context property. It’s just needed. It’s not like we’re asking for something that’s unreasonable. It’s a very reasonable request for us to just make plants legal. I find it incredibly arrogant that mankind thinks that can make plants illegal. If it grows out of the ground hasn’t nature legitimized it enough?”
There is something of a psychedelics and broader drug policy renaissance happening across North America. In Canada, the health minister this month granted exceptions for four cancer patients to use psilocybin mushrooms for end-of-life care in a landmark decision.
This week, the country’s director of Public Prosecutions also directed prosecutors to avoid pursuing drug possession convictions except for “the most serious cases.”
The top police chiefs association in Canada made a bold call for drug policy reform last month, arguing that low-level possession should be decriminalized and substance misuse should be treated as a public health matter.
Last year, a House committee similarly called for the government to decriminalize the simple possession of all drugs in an effort to address addiction as a public health issue.
Over in the U.S., a localized movement to decriminalize psychedelics is rapidly spreading.
In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin, with the approval of a local ballot measure. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. The City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities in January.
Oregon’s secretary of state confirmed last month that separate measures to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs while expanding treatment services will appear on the November ballot.
A measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics has officially qualified for the November ballot in Washington, D.C.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies announced on Thursday that it has raised $30 million in donations—including from several notable business leaders outside the drug policy realm—that will enable it to complete a study on using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Policarpio.