Issue #12 September 2021

As we approach the third anniversary of cannabis legalization for recreational use in Canada, I thought it would be interesting to reach into the vault and see what I had to say about it on the road there. What I’ve reprinted below was written almost five years ago as I was working on my contrarian report: Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Pretense and Perils . The summary at the beginning of the report captures the essence rather well. The report was also prophetic of where the new drug industry on the block was headed. That was not brilliant insight. It was not a lucky guess. It arose from a few decades of observing our other legal drug industries, and our governments’ milquetoast regulation of them.

These words I wrote in late 2016 remain as pertinent as ever, as does the benediction from Kant at the beginning.

If justice perishes, human life on earth has lost its meaning.
– Immanuel Kant

Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Pretense and Perils examines the Canadian government’s campaign to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The government’s stated case is that the contraband trade poses a serious threat to cannabis users (including ‘kids’), and that a legal, regulated industry will provide protection. This report draws upon research on the contraband trade, our established legal drug industries (alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical), and government efforts to regulate these industries. This investigation concludes that the government’s case, on all counts, is weak. Its depiction of the contraband cannabis trade amounts to little more than unsubstantiated, vestigial reefer madness. Our legal drug industries engage in a relentless, indiscriminate, and sometimes illegal, pursuit of revenue with substantial harm to the public’s health and to the Canadian economy. Early indications warn that an ambitious cannabis industry is on a similar trajectory. These industries are enabled by permissive and ineffective regulatory oversight by government.

Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Pretense and Perils recommends immediate decriminalization of minor cannabis-related offences to curtail the criminalization of large numbers of mostly young Canadians. It also supports the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, but strongly asserts that the prevailing profit-driven, poorly regulated paradigm is a dangerous one. The legalization of cannabis in Canada provides an opportunity to try a different approach – a not-for-profit cannabis authority – functioning with a genuine public health priority.

The opportunity to try a systemic alternative to the runaway epidemics of harm from our legal drug industries was ultimately squandered by the Liberal Party of Canada. Getting the toothpaste back in the tube now would require a near miracle of policy engineering. We are now left with only our customary drug policy work of tinkering with a broken model – now applied to a new drug industry.

But there are still opportunities to get this right in other jurisdictions that are considering cannabis legalization. We can also apply what was learned from cannabis legalization to the emerging narrative for the legalization of other psychedelic drugs – psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA. Most of this discussion concerns therapeutic use. As with cannabis in the early days, there is a dearth of clinical trial evidence for effectiveness. The decriminalization of possession of psychedelics and other drugs is a defensible policy initiative, as is increased funding for clinical trials on the potential therapeutic value of these psychedelics. In the interim, if individuals derive therapeutic benefit from their use, they should have reasonable access. However, there are also overtures being made for the legalization of psilocybin for recreational use. This is where we must exercise caution. Observers of the trajectory of cannabis legalization will recognize the pattern. We recognize the more politically palatable foot in the door of legalization for therapeutic use. And we know our governments’ preference for private industry-based commercial legalization. And we know how legal, revenue-driven recreational drug industries roll. It is not pretty. As I covered in the two previous dispatches, the pharmaceutical industry is also capable of perpetrating significant damage to public health and purse. This ongoing failure of drug policy orthodoxy is a topic I will continue to explore.

It is also important to monitor the international narrative for a systemically different approach to drug policy legalization. Health policy organizations in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France have made a case for a not-for-profit approach to cannabis legalization. We should do what we can to nurture that discussion and plant its seeds elsewhere.

It is reassuring to see continued interest in drug policy alternatives by health care professionals, addiction/mental health care providers, faculty, and students here in Canada. I have six virtual presentations booked between now and January. Of course, I look forward to the day when I can see your faces in the same room again. I imagine we are all feeling pretty much zoomed out. But it appears we will have to endure for a longer period yet.

I continue to welcome people to join this list for my always brief, quarterly dispatch on drug policy alternatives. The first one was sent on November 27 2018 to a small but enthusiastic group that has continued to grow. Over 150 people have joined since then. I’m delighted and grateful for your interest. However, if at any time, you feel like you already have too much in your inbox, please do not hesitate to ask to be removed. I will promptly oblige – with genuine empathy concerning overflowing inboxes.

Best wishes for a healthy autumn – or spring, for those of you south of the equator.
(I almost forgot that. Is northern hemispherism a thing? My spell check tells me it isn’t even a word!)

Mike DeVillaer
Hamilton Ontario Canada
September 27, 2021.