Decriminalization in Toronto

Councillor Joe Cressy, Dr. Eileen de Villa, and Toronto Public Health have sought to move forward with assembling a working group to develop a strong Section 56 exemption application, to effectively decriminalize drugs in the city of Toronto.

In the past they have made requests for Section 56 exemptions, but this is the first time that they are seeking to assemble a working group to develop a strong application that is evidence-based.

We wrote a letter directly to Dr. de Villa and chair of the Board of Health, Joe Cressy, expressing our support for their decision, asking about a timeline for the application development (given opioid deaths are happening every day), highlighting some evidence for psychedelics, and offering to be of service or collaborate.

Our Letter To Toronto Public Health

Dear Dr. Eileen de Villa, Councillor Joe Cressy, and the Toronto Board of Health:

As the Drug Policy Committee Lead with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies Canada (MAPS Canada), I am writing to express support for the Toronto Overdose Action Plan released on June 3, 2021.

We commend you, Dr. de Villa, for making the recommendation to develop a working group to establish a health- and social equity-based approach for the possession of substances. Furthermore, we support urging the Federal Minister of Health through the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to permit the simple possession of all drugs and substances for personal use, including psychedelics.

As an organization supporting evidence-based drug policy, we insist that the Federal Minister of Health and the City of Toronto accept that the prohibition of some substances is creating more harm than the substances themselves. The outcome is not only a drug poisoning crisis, it is a crisis of stigma and stereotypes about people who use drugs, which include psychedelics. Now that the City of Vancouver has submitted a formal request for a CDSA exemption for simple possession, we must not miss this opportunity to move forward with improving drug policies and saving lives.

As psychedelics are increasingly being utilized by Canadians, we felt it vital to voice our support for decriminalizing all psychoactive substances. Although MAPS Canada focuses primarily on psychedelics to treat mental health disorders, such as MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we believe the criminalization of people who use drugs is threatening lives unnecessarily. It limits access to safer supply, including psychedelics which are increasingly being recognized as important tools in the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. I encourage you to refer to the Literature Review attached to summarize using psychedelics to treat mental health conditions.

To support the development of a working group, may I suggest including MAPS Canada at the table. We are a volunteer-based organization with both expertise in drug policy and many years of lived experience. Thank you for your time, and if you wish to discuss this further, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Warm Regards,

Michelle Scott, Drug Policy Committee Lead, MAPS Canada