Top officials in the Canadian government have issued a formal response to a petition calling for the nationwide decriminalization of psychedelics, emphasizing in their reply that while the drugs remain illegal for most Canadians there are ways for some people to gain exemptions to legally consume them.
The substances must be studied further before sweeping reforms can be made, however, the government ministers said.
Nearly 15,000 Canadians signed onto an official petition on the House of Commons’s website this summer calling on lawmakers to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi “when used for therapeutic practices, as adjuncts to medical care, for healing ceremonies or solitary spiritual growth and self-development.”
The number of signatures greatly exceeded the threshold to trigger an official reply from the government, which was posted this week.
In addition to decriminalization legislation, the petition also pushes the government to respect historical and cultural traditions around psychedelics. It urges officials to “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.”
By passing the 500-signature goal, the petition qualified to be read before Parliament, and the government was obliged to respond within 45 days. The proposal was presented to the House of Commons on Sept. 30.
The government reply includes three statements, one each from the Ministers of Justice, Health, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. While two of the statements acknowledge opportunities for individual exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) for certain types of drug use, all three responses reiterate that the manufacture, possession and trafficking of psychedelics remain criminal acts.
The briefest of the three statements came from the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, whose reply was signed by M.P. Joël Lightbound acting as parliamentary secretary.
“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is responsible for preventing crimes, investigating crimes, enforcing federal, provincial/territorial and municipal law, and keeping Canadians safe,” it says. “They will continue to enforce existing statutes, including those that prohibit or impose restrictions on the manufacture, possession, and/or trafficking of controlled drugs and substances.”
The other officials’ replies repeat that the drugs are illegal under Canadian law and international drug conventions, but they note that existing law already contains some pathways to permitted use.
For mainstream therapeutic use, says the statement from the Minister of Health, signed by M.P. Darren Fisher, psychedelic drugs would need to pass the country’s drug review process and receive authorization from Health Canada. “Another potential option to access products that have not yet been licensed for sale in Canada, and may still be under investigation, is through a clinical trial,” the response says.
Given that existing laws and regulations “already provide a mechanism to access such organisms for medical or scientific purposes, or for reasons that are otherwise in the public interest (such as religious uses),” says the Health Minister’s reply, “no amendments to the current legislation or regulations are required.”
The lengthiest of the three statements came from Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti. In his reply, Lametti noted that the Minister of Health has the power to grant exemptions from the CDSA “for medical, scientific, or other public interest purposes.” The law “provides the Minister with very broad discretion in deciding whether or not to grant an exemption,” he wrote.
As Lametti explains, those public interests include the protection of fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly. “In circumstances where a person’s traditional use of plants and fungi containing a controlled substance would engage these protections,” his reply says, “the Minister would be obligated to consider, and to proportionately balance, the relevant…protections with the public health and safety objectives of the CDSA.”
In September, Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu granted permission to four cancer patients to use psilocybin mushrooms for end-of-life care.
Lametti also argued that the petition’s broad decriminalization proposal would put Canada out of compliance with international drug conventions, including the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which allow only narrow carveouts for traditional use.
“Generally, reservations must be circumscribed rather than broad and open-ended, such as those proposed in this petition,” Lametti wrote. “That said, Canada is committed to the ongoing development of the scientific evidence base in relation to controlled substances and will continue to work within international forums to raise awareness of the impacts of drug scheduling on particular communities and traditional practices.”
While the government responses don’t signal any immediate reforms, supporters of decriminalization had previously acknowledged the non-binding petition was primarily symbolic. Its sponsor, MP Paul Manly of the Green Party, told Marijuana Moment in August that the petition process serves primarily as “expression of democratic will.”
“We need to have serious discussions about what legislation looks like for decriminalization,” he said at the time. “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.”
The group behind the petition, the Canadian Psychedelic Association, said when the petition was read before Parliament in September that entheogenic medicines “could be the crucial missing piece in healing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and drug addiction while empowering people to realize greater wholeness, purpose and connection.”
Reforms to psychedelics and other drug laws are picking up speed in Canada and elsewhere.
In the U.S. this month, Washington, D.C. voters approved a measure to decriminalize the possession of plant- and fungi-based entheogenic substances, while voters in Oregon passed two major drug reform initiatives: one decriminalizing the possession of all drugs and another legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use.
The measures were among several major cannabis and drug policy proposals on state ballots in the election. Voters approved each one by a significant margin.
In California, meanwhile, officials at both the state and local levels could soon consider decriminalization measures of their own. State Sen. Scott Wiener after the election that he’ll pursue a statewide bill to decriminalize psychedelics in the state. Separately, activists in San Francisco are pushing local officials to make laws against entheogenic plants and fungi the jurisdiction’s lowest law enforcement priority.
Activists in Washington State are also pushing to remove criminal penalties for all drugs, announcing a plan to pass aa bill in the state legislature next session.
“Arresting people for drugs is simply inhumane,” Peter Zuckerman, campaign manager for Oregon’s recently passed decriminalization initiative, said at a press conference about the Washington proposal. He predicted that voters in other states will favor reforms for the same reasons they did in Oregon: “The current approach to drugs is failing.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer
Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill
The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.
While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.
News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”
LIGHT IT UP?: Will we see @GovNedLamont partake in newly legal marijuana?
Check out his answer: pic.twitter.com/XVP3d5fDNi
— John Craven (@johncraven1) June 18, 2021
The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.
“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.
Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.
It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.
Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.
And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.
Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.
Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says
Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.
“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.
According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”
Photos from today’s emergency rally at the Capitol 📸
Thank you to House Majority Leader @_RyanWinkler, Sen. @ScottDibble, Rep. @jeremymunson, and Sen. @jimabeler for speaking and advocating for the decriminalization of cannabis in Minnesota. #mnisready for change! pic.twitter.com/c5T1ffqSuy
— Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (@mnisready) June 16, 2021
Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.
Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.
At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.
“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”
The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:
-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.
-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.
-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.
”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”
Rally for Our Special Session Agenda:
1. Decrim law reform: reduce penalties for concentrates & ensure a petty is not a crime in fed court.
2. Medical reform: Require Minn to petition for a fed exemption fr Schedule 1 for Minn's Med Cannabis patients.https://t.co/9S8Vwz4yoB
— Minnesota NORML (@MNNORML) June 15, 2021
Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.
The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.
Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.
Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.
He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”
The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.
Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.
Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.
Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”
“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”
The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’
The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.
The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.
The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.
“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”
Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”
The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.
These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.
Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.
Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.
For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.
Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.
Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.
Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.
Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.