The decriminalization of psychedelics in Canada is arguably the next logical step after the legalization of cannabis. However, drug reform was not a major highlight of the most recent Canadian elections. To be fair, it almost never is. Nevertheless, it continues to disappoint to see major political parties yet again ignore the popularity and potential of psychedelics.
Many want to see the decriminalization of psychedelics in Canada. Despite this, political parties have missed out on an opportunity to capture new voters. Or, at the very least, capture the imaginations of tired voters who are used to politicians always taking the same achingly slow baby steps.
In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) continues to stigmatize psychedelics as controlled substances. They are divided into “schedules” which stipulate their so-called severity based on potential of abuse. The more “dangerous” a psychedelic is, the more severe the penalties are for violations, including simple possession for personal use.
Now, Schedule 1 offences may result in life imprisonment. Schedule 2 lists no psychedelics, though it is noteworthy that cannabis once was a Schedule 2 drug until Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, came into effect.
Interestingly, the CDSA allows for exceptions to these rules. Section 56 of the Act states that controlled substances may be used by request to the Minister of Health if they are deemed necessary for medical or scientific purposes. Reports have indicated that Canada is increasingly approving such requests. Health Minister Patty Hajdu granted the legal use of the drug for a select few individuals and healthcare professionals.
More progressive than our neighbours?
It’s arguably a more nuanced legal view of psychedelics compared to that of more punitive legislation in countries such as the United States. The US classifies psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms as Schedule 1 drugs. However, is it really all that nuanced when juxtaposed with reality? Do we all have to send a letter to Minister Patty Hajdu every time we want to legally consume some magic mushrooms? Consider also MDMA/ecstasy and its classification as a Schedule 1 substance, for example. Not only is MDMA a vastly popular substance, it also has immense medical potential.
MDMA may catalyze therapeutic processing by allowing patients to stay emotionally engaged while revisiting traumatic experiences without becoming overwhelmed.
Michael C. Mithoefer
The biggest flaw in this kind of system is that it inadvertently results in gatekeeping. The legal usage of these substances is exclusively meted out to the private sector and academia based on the government’s discretion. Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians, many motivated by the same curiosity into the potential of psychedelics cited by these corporations and academics, continue to be at risk of prosecution. The benefits of these substances should not be granted to an elite few, with the hope of them trickling down to the rest of us.
What have different political parties said about the inadequacies of these policies? The government has already earned its fair share of brownie points from legalizing cannabis. The fact remains, softening the war on drugs does not mean the war no longer exists. Now that elections are over, we can expect politicians to barely mention psychedelics and decriminalization for the next four to five years. But when that time comes, here is what we can hold them to:
The good news is that Liberal MPs seem to be overwhelmingly in favour of decriminalizing all personal drug use and possession. The bad news is that party leadership does not agree. Why? In 2018, then-Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said that “decriminalizing would not ensure quality control of drugs, and there would still be the risk of contamination on the streets.” Whether this reasoning makes sense is up to you. With that said, Justin Trudeau did soften his previous rejection of decriminalization in the run up to the recent election. Though, as with many of his promises, it appears to be little more than an lip service.
We’ve seen a number of provinces, particularly British Columbia, very interested in moving forward on some forms of decriminalization and we are absolutely open to working with them.
As their name suggests, the Progressive Conservatives do appear to be shifting towards more progressive ideas on drugs. Party leader Erin O’Toole even managed to meet the bare minimum of harm reduction principles by saying he will allow safe injection sites. However, as their name also suggests, the party remains conservative when it comes to other aspects of drug reform. The Conservatives are notable for attracting criticism for pushing abstinence and fear-based drug policies.
People with addiction should not be the focus of the criminal justice system. People that are dealing and preying on people with addiction should be the focus.
As for the current state of decriminalization of psychedelics in Canada, the NDP and Green Party have committed to decriminalization. Both parties have written that stance into their platforms. CBC also reports that the Bloc Quebecois is on board with decriminalization, although the issue does not appear to be part of the official party platform.
Since Bill C-45, Canada has gained a reputation as a progressive country when it comes to drugs. However, the reality is that it falls short of many jurisdictions that have full decriminalization like Portugal and Uruguay, exposing the fact that Canada is still embroiled in a continued war on drugs that it should never have begun.
Canada can play a role in the psychedelic renaissance by further liberalizing its drug policies. The only question that remains is whether or not the government will have what it takes to see this through. Hopefully, Canadians will continue to use their voices to push for more comprehensive drug reform platforms during the next election.
What are your hopes for the future of drug reform in the country? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and don’t forget to follow CLN.