The Amherst, Massachusetts Town Council has punted on a proposal to decriminalize psychedelics and other currently illicit drugs, sending it back to committee on Monday despite advocates’ hopes that the full body would enact it.
The activist-backed resolution as proposed went beyond decriminalizing drugs for personal use, too, by specifically aiming to provide protections for researchers in the city who study controlled substances like LSD and MDMA. But following discussion and the rejection of a proposed amendment, the Council referred the measure back to the Governance, Organization & Legislation Committee.
Multiple cities throughout the Bay State have enacted policies to make enforcement of laws against psychedelics and other drugs among their lowest law enforcement priorities. The Amherst measure, if enacted, have been the latest victory for that localized movement.
Separately, the campaign Bay Staters for National Medicine (BSNM) is also supporting a statewide reform push to force state lawmakers to file legislation to both legalize entheogenic substances for therapeutic use and otherwise decriminalize certain psychedelics.
Back in Amherst, local lawmakers ultimately declined to act on the resolution calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics specifically and other controlled substances more broadly. Members also defeated a proposed amendment to include possession limits on controlled substances that would be decriminalized.
What makes this measure unique compared to others that have been passed in the state and elsewhere is that it specified that the “investigation and arrest of credentialed researchers working in university laboratories to test controlled substances, and produce and analyze controlled substances shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priorities.”
The resolution further stated that the town council “expresses support for state legislation decriminalizing possession of all controlled substances without punitive civil penalties that will reverse local progress and further expresses support for said legislation to include the legalization of entheogenic plants and fungi to prevent this worthy cause from being unnecessarily delayed.”
Some members of the council said they support decriminalization in principle but had a problem with passing a measure on the local level on an issue that they see as more of a state responsibility. Presumably the resolution will need to be reworked in committee, and its provisions changed somewhat, in order to get the majority of support on the full council that’s needed to pass it.
Despite this Amherst hiccup, psychedelics reform has moved quickly at the local level in jurisdictions throughout Massachusetts.
For example, BSNM is in the process of collecting signatures to put a decriminalization measure on the ballot in the state’s second largest city, Worcester.
If either the Amherst or Worcester efforts are ultimately successful, the jurisdictions would be joining four other Massachusetts cities that have already enacted similar policy changes: Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton.
BSNM is also helping to organize a statewide effort, leveraging a unique legislative process in the state whereby citizens are able to make the legislators who represent them file bills “by request” even if the sponsor doesn’t personally back the policy.
BSNM’s James Davis told Marijuana Moment in April that they had about 500 people who’ve signed up to file a “by request” bill that would create regulated access to certain psychedelics for therapeutic use, legalize cultivation of entheogenic substances and otherwise decriminalize low-level possession of any currently controlled substance.
The proposed state legislation would further seek to promote criminal justice reform by expanding expungements policies and creating a task force to recommend additional policies to aid those most impacted by criminalization while also expanding support for mental health programs.
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Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers last year heard testimony on separate proposals to decriminalize drug possession and establish a pilot program for safe injection facilities where people could use illicit substances in a medically supervised environment to prevent overdose deaths and facilitate treatment.
The decriminalization bill would replace criminal penalties for the possession of any controlled substance with a civil fine of up to $50.
The separate, less far-reaching bill would direct the Department of Public Health to simply “evaluate the feasibility” of safe consumption sites and then report back to lawmakers.
With respect to psychedelics, Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill last year that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
None of those bills have received votes.
Psychedelics reform is also advancing outside of Massachusetts in state legislatures across the country.
For example, the governor of Colorado recently signed a bill to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use.
Maryland’s governor recently allowed a bill to go into law without his signature to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.
The Maine Senate approved a bill in April to to create a medical psilocybin program in the state, but the House of Representatives refused to go along.
Also that month, Georgia lawmakers advanced a bipartisan resolution that calls for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and make recommendations for reforms.
The governor of Utah signed a bill in March to create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
A Missouri House committee also held a hearing that month on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
The Washington State legislature recently sent a budget bill to the governor’s desk that includes a proposal to direct $200,000 in funding to support a new workgroup to study the possibility of legalizing psilocybin services in the state, including the idea of using current marijuana regulatory systems to track psychedelic mushrooms.
In March, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for medical use for adults 21 and older.
Also that month, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.
Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills in March—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
An Oregon Senate committee also recently advanced a bill to ensure that equity is built into the state’s historic therapeutic psilocybin program that’s actively being implemented following voter approval in 2020.
A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel in January, only to be pushed off until 2023. A separate Senate proposal to decriminalize psilocybin alone was later defeated in a key committee.
California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.
Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation in January that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania bill meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms for certain mental health conditions may be in jeopardy, with the sponsor saying that the chair of a key House committee is expressing reservations even after the legislation was amended in an effort to build support.
New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.
Legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature last year requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to DEA in January, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Activists and patients were recently arrested at the DEA headquarters after engaging in civil disobedience during a protest over the agency’s refusal to provide a waiver granting those patients access to psilocybin under Right to Try laws.
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