We did it for cannabis, but is Canada ready to legalize psilocybin? As known as magic mushrooms, there is a strong push to start the legalization process for the naturally occurring psychedelic. And we may not be that far away, either.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu decision related to a petition to use psilocybin
Earlier this week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu considered a petition in relation to four cancer patients in end-of-life care. The patients filed the legal document back in April. To seek an exception from existing laws to use psilocybin as part of their palliative care treatment. In a landmark decision, Hajdu approved their application to do so, making them legally exempt from the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act. This marks the first publicly-known approval of its type in Canada in relation to psilocybin and it opens the door to others.
History of Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Psilocybin became illegal in this country in 1974. Prior to then, though, the drug had been used in medical research and in hopes of finding better ways to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Truth be known, magic mushrooms have had a long history in human culture. Archaeological records trace their use as far as back as 9000 B.C. Aztecs and tribes in Northern Africa appear to have consumed these naturally occurring psychotropics alongside others foraged in their environment, such as peyote.
But in the 1950s, magic mushrooms entered the mainstream, Western consciousness. Highly published experiments at Harvard University brought psilocybin quick notoriety. The drug was eventually tied to the hippie movement of the 1960s, though, and from there on out became a symbol of the counterculture.
This, undoubtedly, factored into its eventual prohibition.
However, with the legalization of cannabis, psilocybin may have more than a fighting chance at making a comeback in the legal realm.
Consider the fact that legal cannabis access was first granted to patients who required it for medicinal purposes. Nearly twenty years ago, Health Canada allowed medical patients to access cannabis, but only pursuant to a doctor’s prescription of course. Patients were allowed to do use cannabis for a number of prescribed conditions including epilepsy, arthritis, cancer and multiple sclerosis. The prescriptions were initially limited to dried flowers.
From there, though, the flood gates were opened. Through political action and legal challenges, cannabis restrictions were loosened more and more over time.
Although there were some attempts to decriminalize cannabis in the early 2000s. The movement was left largely stagnant once the Conservatives took office under Stephen Harper. It wasn’t until Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister that cannabis legalization was able to really gain some political traction.
While a favourable political environment may be an advantageous element in the hopeful legalization of psilocybin, it may not be absolutely necessary. After all, policymakers, like the Health Minister, and judges at various levels of the court may help with the heavy lifting.
For example, our courts were instrumental in chipping away at cannabis laws over time.
Landmark decisions like R. v. Smith helped to expand existing definitions of legal cannabis and to entrench constitutional access to the drug, despite its precarious state of prohibition. There, the Court weighed in on the definition of medical cannabis. In doing so, it did something that politicians and lawmakers could not. It expanded the definition of medical cannabis, finding that patients should not be limited to the dried flower in the course of their treatment. Instead, the Court ruled that they should rightfully have access to different forms of the drug, including but not limited to edibles, extracts and oils.
By challenging, and subsequently overturning, unconstitutional laws related to medical cannabis. The litigants and judges paved the way to legal, recreational cannabis – and, more likely than not, the road to legal psilocybin will be the same.
Given the Health Ministers’ latest decision-
It seems reasonable to assert that there has already been a major, cultural shift when it comes to the medicinal use of naturally occurring psychedelics in this country. After all, the Minister could have chosen to deny the petition and left the decision up to the courts – but she didn’t.
And this shift appears to be echoing throughout society.
In a recent media statement, Vancouver Police Department spokesman Steve Addison indicated that enforcement efforts would not be focused on magic mushrooms. Instead, he said that police are committed and focused on combating organized crime and sophisticated criminals who profit from the production and distribution of harmful drugs, like fentanyl and other opioids. Given the toll that the opioid crisis has had on our community, it is difficult to argue that this is anything other than a reasonable and measured approach to drug enforcement.
So as reformers push for legal access to psilocybin, we should remember that this machine will have many moving parts, and while the road to legalization might be long, the journey may be far less arduous today than it would have been in the past.