As scientific evidence accumulates, showing that psychedelic psilocybin can effectively treat mental health conditions such as depression, movements to legalize the practice in Canada are picking up steam — and Canadians are pushing this forward with an official petition to legalize psilocybin.
For example, there is a court case arguing that the prohibition of this medicine contravenes citizens’ constitutional rights. There are also non-profits aiming to educate the government on the science. And, there are scientific bodies working with Health Canada (basically Canada’s FDA) through the clinical trial system to eventually legalize the medicine.
Now there is a movement to force the Canadian government itself to consider legalizing psilocybin-assisted therapy. This comes in the form of an online “Petition to the Government of Canada,” which, by law, will have to be presented in the House of Commons.
Petition e-4334, opened on March 16th, calls on the federal government to “allow Canadians to have timely unrestricted access to therapeutic psilocybin in any form as needed to alleviate their suffering.”
In other words, the petition is calling for the complete legalization of medical psilocybin-assisted therapy.
While exciting, some obvious questions arise. Primary among them is, just how significant is this petition? And, is there any chance that this psychedelic-friendly petition will lead to change?
In this article, I will examine the likely answers to both of these questions, as well as explain the Canadian petition system itself.
The petition calls on the federal government to “allow Canadians to have timely unrestricted access to therapeutic psilocybin in any form as needed to alleviate their suffering.”
To start, in Canada, an online petition must be “presented” to the House of Commons if it meets several conditions. The two most important are that it is signed by at least 500 residents of Canada, and that a Member of Parliament (MP) “authorizes” it. At the time of writing, despite the petition only being live for 3 days, it has achieved both thresholds.
So far, the petition has 603 signatures — a number that will likely skyrocket as people become aware of its existence. Furthermore, Saskatchewan Conservative MP, Garnett Genuis, has authorized it.
Therefore, sometime after the petition closes on April 15th (there is no set timeline for when this should happen) an MP — which could be Genuis or another MP — will “present” this petition to the House of Commons.
The petition, in its entirety, is as follows.
Petition to the Government of Canada
Strong medical evidence exists that access to psychedelic assisted therapy can effectively treat existential suffering in dying, depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and other mental health conditions, improving quality of life;
Psilocybin required for psilocybin assisted therapy is currently only available in clinical trials and by special individual permission from Health Canada despite its low potential for harm; and
It is paradoxical and unethical to allow physicians to provide MAID [Medical Assistance in Dying] for their patients while preventing the same physicians from treating their end of life distress with psilocybin.
We, the undersigned, compassionate Canadians, call upon the Government of Canada to allow Canadians to have timely unrestricted access to therapeutic psilocybin in any form as needed to alleviate their suffering via Section 56 exemptions [a mechanism allowing doctors to prescribe “illegal” medicines].
During this presentation, the MP will have up to 15 minutes to read and explain the petition. They will not, however, be allowed to argue for or against it. Their job is solely to inform the parliamentarians of its existence. Furthermore, the MPs will not have a chance to debate the merits of the proposal after the presentation is finished.
Instead, it will be sent to a government body called the Privy Council, who will then ensure that the relevant governmental departments examine it. In this case, it would likely be the departments of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and perhaps Justice. Then the government has 45 days to provide (“table”) a response.
In other words, the petition will not force the elected members of parliament to take it seriously, or debate it. Therefore, the most likely outcome of this petition is that it is read in Parliament, sent to a couple of departments who read it, and then write a nice little response as to why it won’t change anything.
So, a big nothing burger, right?
Well, not exactly.
The primary achievement of this petition will be ensuring that the legalization of psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat mental health is on the radars’ of parliamentarians. As already mentioned above, many legal and educational campaigns are already underway, and this will add one more stick to the fire. Even if the petition itself does not result in the legalization of psilocybin therapy, it may contribute to the ultimate success of the movement.
The petition may play a larger role if it “goes viral.” With only around 600 signatures, the Trudeau government can easily ignore it. If, however, it receives tens of thousands of signatures or more, the Liberal government may take the issue more seriously.
We already have evidence that psilocybin therapy is on the minority government’s radar. Last year the Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett visited Oregon to learn about that state’s plan to legalize psilocybin therapy, and Tweeted nice things about the program. If Canadians use this petition to show that it’s an issue they care about, it could give Carolyn Bennett’s department a signal that they should follow through on at least testing legal psilocybin therapy.
If you are a Canadian resident, you can sign the petition here.