Massachusetts lawmakers are moving forward to decriminalize psychedelic drugs. The effort began at the city level when Somerville and Cambridge adopted measures that would make possession of psychedelics a low law enforcement priority. Now it has moved to a state-wide initiative.
Cambridge’s city order read, “Drug policy in the United States and the so-called “War on Drugs” has historically led to unnecessary penalization, arrest, and incarceration of vulnerable people, particularly people of color and of limited financial means, instead of prioritizing harm-reduction policies that treat drug abuse as an issue of public health. Entheogenic plants, which include a spectrum of natural plants, fungi, and natural materials, have been used for centuries by people in different cultures to address conditions including substance abuse, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), elements of Persistent Traumatic Stress Environment (PTSE) conditions, chronic depression, end-of-life anxiety, grief, cluster headaches, and tendencies toward recidivism, as well as to improve mental and socio-emotional health.”
The city resolved that the Middlesex County District Attorney should “Cease the prosecution of persons involved in the use, possession, or distribution of entheogenic plants and the use or possession without the intent to distribute of any controlled substance.” It went on to say that the use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood first and primarily as an issue of public health by city departments, agencies, boards, commissions, and all employees of the city and that it should be the policy of the City of Cambridge that the arrest of adult persons for using or possessing controlled substances shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Cambridge.
Marijuana Moment reported that the state Senate version of the legislation, SD 2248, was introduced Friday by Sen. Julian Cyr (D) and was virtually identical to the House bill. Both measures are titled “An Act Relative to Harm Reduction and Racial Justice.” This bill stated, “No person knowingly or intentionally shall possess a controlled substance unless such substance was obtained directly, or pursuant to a valid prescription or order, from a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by the provisions of this chapter.” It also limits any fines to $50.
A separate House bill introduced by Mike Connolly (D) on Friday would move even further than decriminalization and would set the stage for regulated sales of certain drugs. The House bill, HD 3829 language states that an interagency task force would be created to study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi. The task force will be made up of 21 members.
“The task force shall: (i) compile and review research regarding the physiological and psychological effects of entheogenic plants and fungi; (ii) compile testimony and data on the experiences of communities across the United States—including Somerville (MA), Cambridge (MA), Denver (CO), Oakland (CA), Santa Cruz (CA), Ann Arbor (MI), sovereign native lands, Washington D.C. and Oregon. The task force shall file a report of its findings and recommendations, together with drafts of legislation necessary to carry those recommendations into effect, by filing the same with the clerks of the senate and the house of representatives, the chairs of the senate and house committees on ways and means, the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on public health, the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on the judiciary, the senate and house chairs of the joint committee on public safety and homeland security not later than June 2022.”
“Our coalition owes these bills to our volunteers across the Commonwealth,” the group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, which was behind the successful local decriminalization efforts in Somerville and Cambridge, told Marijuana Moment in a statement. “From the vicious pain of opioid addiction and cluster headaches to the exclusion of people of color from the mental health care system, it’s your stories of redemption and hope that have created this movement.”
“I’m looking forward to a dialogue in Massachusetts to identify the most effective and evidence-based public health and harm reduction strategies that should replace the failed drug war,” Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator and longtime drug policy activist, told Marijuana Moment.
Vermont, which borders Massachusetts is also laying the groundwork for some sort of decriminalization. The Vermont Digger reported that Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George was suggesting laws to that effect as a means to combat addiction issues. Rep. Selene Colburn, P/D-Burlington said, “a bill to decriminalize drugs across the board was still being drafted but would be introduced in the Legislature later this session at a press conference.”