Suggestions for Progressive Drug Policy

Our Letter To The Prime Minister

Oct.8.2021

Dear Prime Minister and Ministers:

On behalf of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies Canada (MAPS Canada), I would like to congratulate you on your re-elections. MAPS Canada is a registered, charitable, non-profit, Canadian organization with a mission of working with partners in government, business and the community to position itself as the leading resource in the field of psychedelic medicine through multidisciplinary research, public education and the training of psychedelic therapists.

Canadians have entrusted you to move Canada forward and finish the fight against COVID-19. COVID-19 has exacerbated the mental health and poisoned drug supply/overdose crises affecting our country. Deaths due to the toxic drug supply (the vast majority of which are accidental) are peaking due to the interruption to drug supply chains and drug treatment programs caused by COVID-19. In the most recent federal election, nearly two-thirds of Canadians voted for parties, such as yours, which promised progressive drug policy. As you plan your agenda for this upcoming session of Parliament, we encourage you to make progressive drug policy a priority and take the following concrete steps to improve Canadians’ mental health and address the poisoned drug supply/overdose crisis:

1. Amend the Food and Drug Regulations and the Narcotic Control Regulations to restore potential access to restricted drugs through Health Canada’s Special Access Program. Health Canada published proposed regulations to make this change on December 12, 2020, and we encourage you to bring into force the proposed regulations as published. Bringing into force these regulations would allow the possibility of Canadians suffering from mental illness to use the Special Access Program to access life-changing psychedelic medicines. There is currently much interest and renewed clinical research into the potential therapeutic benefits of several psychedelic drugs, and emerging evidence suggests that psychedelic-assisted therapy holds the potential to radically change how chronic mental health issues are viewed and treated. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States of America has granted “breakthrough therapy” status for psilocybin and 3,4-methylenedioxy methamphetamine (MDMA) assisted therapy.

2. Re-introduce an amended bill C-22: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The 2021 Liberal Party of Canada platform promised to re-introduce bill C-22 within your first 100 days of government. Bill C-22, in its latest form, proposes to take some positive steps, eliminating mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences and requiring police and prosecutors to consider other measures for simple possession of drugs such as diversion to substance use disorder treatment programs.

As requested in our July 2021 letter, we encourage you to improve bill C-22 by including an amendment to repeal section 4 of the Controlled Substances Act (CDSA) and creating a national strategy to decriminalize psychedelic substances. Bill C-22 is intended to address the disproportionate impact on Indigenous and Black Canadians and Canadians struggling with substance use disorder. If bill C-22 passes in its current form, simple possession of drugs will remain a criminal offence, contributing to continued interactions between police and people who use drugs and continued high risk of human rights violations. Decriminalizing simple drug possession by repealing section 4 of the CDSA would ensure no more Canadians would be imprisoned for simple drug possession. As you are likely aware, the cities of Vancouver and Montreal have already asked for s.56 exemptions from the CDSA to effectively decriminalize personal possession of drugs. Toronto is working on an application and many other Canadian cities have expressed an interest and intention to follow suit.

Many people with mental illnesses use psychedelic substances to treat their symptoms. People with mental illnesses, including substance use disorder, are already criminalized in circumstances where treatment would be far more appropriate. If only simple drug possession is decriminalized, without a strategy to decriminalize other activities related to psychedelics, there is a serious risk that police officers and prosecutors will wrongly pursue other criminal offences against individuals using psychedelic substances for their own personal health and well-being.

3. Consider implementing TheraPsil’s Proposed Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations. In consultation with patients, lawyers, regulatory experts and the psychedelic community, the non-profit organization TheraPsil has drafted an accessible and balanced proposed framework for the legalization of psilocybin for medical and therapeutic purposes. The framework is based on the 2016 regulations for medical cannabis. Similar to cannabis, psilocybin is a naturally occurring substance with a low-risk profile and a long history of medicinal and cultural use. Psilocybin has been granted “breakthrough therapy” status by the US Food and Drug Administration and shows tremendous promise treating depression, end-of-life anxiety, cluster headaches, substance use disorder and other ailments.

4. Decide on outstanding s.56 CDSA requests for psilocybin. Thank you for showing compassion and for already approving dozens of s.56 CDSA requests, allowing patients access to psilocybin for medicinal purposes. While TheraPsil’s Proposed Access to Psilocybin for Medical Purposes Regulations would be an improvement over the s.56 CDSA process, we understand it takes time to develop regulations. We understand all s.56 requests are reviewed based on their merits. We ask that you continue to review s.56 requests for psilocybin in a timely and compassionate manner.

5. Decide on outstanding s. 56 CDSA requests to exempt interested municipalities from simple possession of drugs. While decriminalizing simple drug possession of drugs by amending bill C-22 to repeal section 4 of the CDSA would be simpler and benefit all Canadians, we understand it takes time to pass legislation. In the meantime, the Minister of Health has the authority to decriminalize simple possession of drugs in municipalities such as Vancouver that make requests to do so. We encourage you to work with municipalities to address their s.56 requests in a timely and compassionate manner.

Thank you for considering our suggestions to help address Canada’s drug poisoning and mental health crises and improve Canada’s drug policies. I or a member of MAPS Canada would be pleased to further discuss this matter with yourself, any member of Parliament or a member of your respective staff.

Yours sincerely,

Scott Bernstein

Executive Director

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