September 9, 2021

September 8, 2021

What's the Difference Between Legalizing & Decriminalizing Psychedelics?

The definitions of legalization and decriminalization warrant a much deeper understanding of the law when it comes to psychedelics.

From policymakers and advocates to media personnel and the general public, there's a worldwide debate around making drug use safer by adopting different approaches. For example, Canada’s fight against the Overdose Crisis has compelled a nationwide argument for and against the legalization and decriminalization of drugs. The dictionary definition of legalization dictates something that was once prohibited is now officially permissible by the law. However, in terms of psychedelics such as ibogaine or psilocybin, the definitions warrant a much deeper understanding. 

At MINDCURE, we're determined to challenge the stigma against powerful medicines, while also sharing resources that can empower a deeper knowledge of the risks and dangers of substances. We're even producing pharmaceutical-grade ibogaine to supply researchers and promote therapeutic usage of psychedelics for mental health and well-being. Yet, as the world progresses, we find ourselves in an ever-evolving legal climate surrounding the access and use of psychedelics.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization of Drugs

When drugs are decriminalized, their production and sale are essentially still illegal. However, criminal charges and penalties for personal use and possession are significantly reduced to fines or the lowest level of legal sanctions. For example, Oregon's decriminalization initiative, Proposal 44 or the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act (DATRA) ensures reduced prison sentences and criminal punishments for drugs scheduled from one to four including, psilocybin, heroin, LSD, and ayahuasca. 

However, the type and limit for reduced sanctions can vary depending on the model of decriminalization adopted. According to the International Drug Policy Consortium, and the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the decriminalization model must use best practices under public health principles adhering to and advocating for basic human rights. Thus, in theory, the use of psychedelics for medicinal and therapeutic purposes is justified. However, the judicial and legal systems would argue otherwise.

On the other hand, legalization refers to the complete removal of criminal sanctions against drugs that were once deemed illegal or banned. For example, the Cannabis Act provides a regulated framework for the possession, sale, and production of Cannabis in Canada.

Decriminalization: A Necessary Step?

It's argued that decriminalization can help make drug use safer and ultimately save lives. This is perhaps because it adjusts the way we think about drugs. When drug use is not treated as a criminal offence, it automatically becomes a health and social issue. This way, the fall out of drugs are addressed at the root level of the problem (e.g., housing, healthcare, etc.) rather than just with handcuffs and criminal charges. By establishing a decriminalized response to the possession of drugs, people’s connection to health and social systems can be strengthened. For example, people will be encouraged to call 911, especially in overdose cases. Although drug-related Good Samaritan laws prevent criminal charges at the scene of the overdose, there is still some apprehension when reaching out to the police. 

Country-wide decriminalization eliminates any fear or stigma associated with drug possession, thereby increasing access to care. This is perhaps why approximately 59% of Canadians are in favour of decriminalizing drugs, and government officials such as the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and British Columbia’s chief public health officials have also publicly shown support for decriminalizing drugs to overcome the Opioid Crisis.

However, the decriminalization of drugs does not ensure a safer supply of drugs. 

Impacting Overdose & Disease Rates

Decriminalization is essentially a harm reduction approach. Research and implementation of decriminalization models across the world have found a reduction in overdose and disease rates. For example, in Portugal HIV transmission among people who inject drugs has decreased almost 85% while HIV rates in the Czech Republic are less than 1%. There are also economic and social benefits of implementing decriminalization and legalization models. For instance, the Californian Justice System saved almost $1 billion in 10 years following the decriminalization of cannabis possession in 1976.

However, the overdose crisis is primarily led by the illegal and unreliable supply of drugs. Since decriminalization does not ensure a safer supply model, illegal drugs made with harmful contaminants will continue to prevail in society. Without legal frameworks regulating drugs, overdose rates will remain undoubtedly high even with a decriminalized model in place. 

Nevertheless, the decriminalization of drugs remains an essential step in fighting the stigma and regulating psychedelics use such as ibogaine, in therapeutic environments.

Impacting Access to Psychedelics

There is a recurring debate in academia on the legalization and decriminalization of psychedelics these days. This is perhaps because common legalization, and decriminalization models and definitions are not generalizable to psychedelics. For example, although there are multiple clinical trials with psychedelics like MDMA, ibogaine, and psilocybin underway to help speed up the legalization process, there will still be restrictions to access and usage. In this case, despite the FDA-approved status, these otherwise legalized drugs will essentially be treated as rescheduled ones. 

In a similar occurrence, one may argue that exemptions, such as Section 56, are an essential step in the medicinal recognition of psychedelics. However, they still prohibit nationwide personal possession, thereby obstructing safe and regulated usage.

Even as the psychedelic landscape shifts rapidly, the legalization and decriminalization of these drugs will require consistent case-by-case evaluation. There will be underlying differences in definitions and perceptions, especially when determining the rules and regulations for distribution, access, and usage.

The Way Forward

The revival of psychedelics in therapeutic environments has revolutionized the vision and understanding of modern medicine. To ensure a safer supply and consumption of psychedelic drugs, MINDCURE is building essential systems that home protocols for administrators and users through a cutting-edge digital platform, iSTRYM. By synthesizing Ibogaine, our team at MINDCURE is eliminating any harmful and unpredictable elements that otherwise increase overdose risks.

Written by

Naveen Rashid