“My faith is with technology and with psychedelics. Politics aren’t going to take us much further. ” – Terence McKenna
September 20th, 2021
I dig Terence McKenna, but in 2021 politics is going to have a major influence on the landscape of psychedelics, and there’s just no getting around that. Some companies, specifically the ones targeting a future rec market are basically at the complete mercy of government forces. Those doing clinical trials looking for breakthrough drugs are also affected by potentially stricter drug classifications, making research and raising capital more difficult.
Companies like Filament Health (FH.NE) and Numinus (NUMI.V) have also been given Dealer’s Licenses from Health Canada to test, create and sell psychedelic compounds. Numinus has also taken advantage of a government program that allows them to partner with MAPS in their MDMA-assisted therapy trials.
No matter the company, or vertical, politics is going to play a part.
The Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Trudeau recently called an election for September 20, 2021. So how could this potentially affect the psychedelics sector?
First, this will mostly be speculation as no major party in Canada has psychedelics in their platform. This in and of itself is baffling as it’s an extremely popular issue with Canadians, just as cannabis legalization was.
The Canadian Psychedelic Association (CPA) commissioned a survey recently where 82% of respondents said they back allowing the therapeutic use of psilocybin for people with terminal illnesses, and 78% would support the government establishing a legal regulatory model to facilitate that treatment. This is a very popular idea and would be a great shiny object to dangle to the public, but no one seems to be biting, and with the polls getting closer and closer leading up to the election I think one of the parties could get a point or two if this were on their platform.
But there are some other measurable things to factor in some kind of assumption as to how each party may handle the potential birth of a legal psychedelics industry.
First, let’s start with the group that currently holds power.
Justin Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal Party in April 2013 and led his party to victory in the 2015 federal election, moving the third-placed Liberals from 36 seats to 184 seats, the largest-ever numerical increase by a party in a Canadian federal election. The 2019 election was not as favorable to the Liberals who transitioned into a minority government winning only 157 seats. Trudeau recently stated if they can’t form a majority government in 2021, there will be another election 18 months down the road.
Following cannabis legalization, The Liberal Party was adamant that they were not seeking to legalize any more substances any time soon. And while I believe them, I don’t think people should take this statement as Rosetta Stone.
On June 17, 2019, Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith tabled a private member’s bill, C-460, which would have amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to end criminal sanctions for low-level possession of drugs. At the time, he said the number one source of the stigma associated with seeking treatment is the criminal sanction.
On the other hand, Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said in April 2018 that the government had “no plans to legalize or decriminalize any other drugs” besides marijuana.
But I think Trudeau’s point about no more drug legalizations is more of a message to those across the aisle. One of the major talking points against cannabis legalization came from the Conservatives across the aisle who was worried that legalizing cannabis would create some kind of gateway effect into legalizing all drugs. The Liberals wanted to make clear that their platform had some distance from the NDP’s, more on that later.
“Canadians are allowed to make beer at home or wine and some Canadians grow tobacco. It’s already possible for Canadians to grow cannabis for medical purposes and we absolutely believe that the legislation should be consistent when it comes to recreational cannabis” – Liberal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor
The NDP has a reputation of wanting to give everything to everyone. ‘Well, how are you going to pay for it?’ is usually the first refutable point that comes up in a debate where an NDP member is present and opening their mouth. But would legalizing psychedelics be an expensive endeavor? It would be a drop in the bucket compared to other costly left-wing initiatives.
One of the NDP’s key issues is addiction, harm reduction, and drug legalization.
The NDP has been very clear; they are clearly for the decriminalization of possession of illegal drugs for personal use, like other countries have done, such as Portugal or the Czech Republic.
In 2018, the NDP passed a resolution to end the criminalization of the personal possession of all drugs, a move matching leader Jagmeet Singh’s position that problematic drug use should be treated as a social-justice and healthcare issue compared to a criminal one.
The NDP was the first major Canadian party to advocate for federal drug decriminalization, and it looks likely that it will also become the first to include it in a party platform.
Earlier this year. NDP MP Don Davies introduced a bill in the House of Commons on Thursday that would decriminalize a wide range of drugs, including opioids, ecstasy, and cocaine. It would also make it possible to clear Canadians’ criminal records of convictions for drug possession. Davies characterized his legislation as “the first bill ever to attempt to fully transform our country’s criminalized approach to drug use to a health-based one.”
The main issue with the NDP is as old as time itself, they have never won the largest share of seats at the federal level. It’s like putting money on the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.
Jagmeet Singh took over the party leadership in 2017, and since then things have been rocky. In 2019 the NDP managed to win a miserly 24 seats, down from 39 in 2015. Singh was awkward on camera, often resembling a high schooler filming a class project. He also fumbled on foreign policy questions and just didn’t seem up to task. He was shaky at the debates and didn’t connect with Canadians. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer had the same problem, but for Scheer is more about being an absolute zero charisma-wise.
“The fact that we have a government that’s talking about legalization that hasn’t immediately decriminalized possession is completely offensive, completely unacceptable.” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
I should also mention The Green Party exists, but they have an even less likely chance at any kind of federal power after only receiving 1.1 million votes in the 2019 election, still about 4X as much as the PPC party but still a drop in the bucket.
And speaking of the ideological right, let’s take a look at the party known for having the most fun, the Conservatives.
Whenever I think of the Conservative Party I always think of that scene from Arrested Development where George Michael gets the poster that says ‘fun and failure both start out the same way’ right after Michael buys him a Jack Welch suit.
We are in an interesting era of Conservative politics in Canada. We see today’s Conservatives running away from both the stuffy Stephen Harper archetype, as well as the Donald Trump fuck bitches get money archetype. The Conservative Party has a new leader, Erin O’Toole, who took over after Andrew Scheer’s defeat in the 2019 election. Much like Harper, Scheer was a logic and reason guy, not an emotions guy. O’Toole is trying to take a different approach.
After being absolutely grilled on Twitter for months for appearing on multiple Rebel Media segments and seeing ‘Canada’s Trump’ trending pretty frequently in reference to O’Toole. For those who don’t know, Rebel Media is a far-right free speech network that regularly fires its own employees for free speech infractions, ie Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes. It also offered to pay that woman from Richmond, BC who got famous on r/publicfreakout for assaulting a member of the Vancouver Police Department after he thought she should be wearing a mask on the train at the height of the pandemic. Rebel then bailed on the offer once she received her court date. It was purely a PR play, a pretty cool move by Rebel actually.
But, the Conservatives are taking a break from the Ayn Rand shut up and don’t cry approach and into something a little more altruistic. O’Toole has also made mental health care one of the “five pillars” of the 2021 Conservative platform and plans on investing heavily in addiction and recovery infrastructure following a failed war on drugs.
This is a promising step, but, many, including myself, would be skeptical that a Conservative government would do anything to move drug legalization efforts forward. I d get a lot out of the amount of young, rich, Coal Harbour weed CEOs tweet 30 times a day about how Trudeau is a communist, but they also got rich because of him. If the Conservatives had been in power they’d still be looking down a dark uranium shaft. Sorry Rex Murphy, at least you’re still sexy.
Numinus recently announced a partnership with MAPS to build on the work MAPS has been doing with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy trials. MAPS founder Rick Doblin is about as legit as it gets in the psychedelics world, and MAPS’ Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA-assisted therapy were pretty groundbreaking.
Why was Numinus granted this special privilege?
Health Canada’s Special Access Program (SAP) gives healthcare professionals the ability to obtain restricted drugs for patients who have failed by going the conventional route. In theory, the SAP allows doctors to request access to drugs like psilocybin, MDMA, and LSD. But that changed in 2013 when Conservative leader Stephen Harper, made accessing restricted drugs through the SAP prohibited. Now, the only way for patients to access such substances is through clinical trials. Thus we have the Numinus/MAPS clinical trial partnership.
Harper’s government also brought in mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug crimes. The Supreme Court struck down the measures years later, suggesting the law cast too wide a net and could result in “cruel and unusual punishment.”
At the end of the day, Harper made research into psychedelics more difficult, were against cannabis legalization, and increased criminal punishment for drug users. While O’Toole tries to move away from this image, it is the traditional Conservative brand and a feature rather than a bug to millions of voters.
“We have already established that this legislation would put marijuana in the hands of children, not just with the 15 joints that 12-year-olds can have but with the four plants per household, so little Johnny can put some in the toaster oven and smoke it up… Why does the minister not care about the safety of Canadians and Canadian children?” — Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu in the House of Commons, June 6, 2017.
After Canada’s legalization of cannabis in October 2018, many look to the North waiting for the next domino to fall. The Liberal government who first introduced the cannabis legislation gained brownie points as cannabis legalization was wildly popular, I mean it’s Canada. A poll by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax found that about 68% of people across the country favored cannabis legalization. During the rollout in 2018 there were definitely more than a few hiccups that affected both companies and the end consumer, but all in all, it got done.
Some are hopeful that the same government that listened and took action with cannabis will, in time, do the same with psilocybin. But, the Liberals currently don’t have the same power they did when they had a majority government, and that means legislation is harder to pass.
According to the polls, a Liberal minority looks likely, although a Conservative minority also looks quite plausible at this point. Many Canadians although happy with how the Liberals handled the pandemic, aren’t happy about using it as a means to call an election and form a majority government.
The Liberals seem to be impervious to scandal, the Conservatives are taking the ‘we are actually not Q’ approach, and the NDP is well, in third place just as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.