Now Reading
Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiatives Are In Motion Across the Country

Psychedelic Decriminalization Initiatives Are In Motion Across the Country

Since Denver’s successful effort to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms passed by ballot initiative in 2019, movements to reform drug policy affecting psychedelics have bloomed across the nation. To date, new laws have passed in Oakland, Washington, DC, Santa Cruz, Somerville, Ann Arbor, Cambridge, and the state of Oregon. Building on this momentum, a series of new initiatives are on the path toward reforming drug policy at the city or state level. Many of these efforts are spearheaded by lawmakers, usually in coordination with grassroots community groups, who have been swayed by the growing body of data on the medical potential of psychedelics, while acknowledging the failed approach of the War on Drugs. 

Below is a roundup of currently active decriminalization bills and ballot initiatives that are in motion toward a vote in cities and states across America. Some seek to decriminalize psychedelics, while others broaden their reach to decriminalize all controlled substances. 

In addition, new state and federal efforts to research the health benefits of psychedelic substances, as a step toward building support for future legalization legislation, are also included. 

STATE INITIATIVES

California 

There are two initiatives in California seeking to reform drug policy statewide. 

One effort is being led by California State Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced legislation in February that, if passed, would decriminalize the use and possession of certain psychedelic substances statewide, making them the lowest priority for law enforcement. 

The substances covered by this legislation include psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ketamine, LSD, MDMA, mescaline, and ibogaine – all of which are being studied for potential medical use. 

Decriminalize Nature worked closely with Wiener’s office in the drafting of this bill, Larry Norris, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature, tells Lucid News.

“We’re excited about the bill because it would allow for Grow-Gather-Gift,” says Norris, referring to a model where entheogenic plants and fungi can be cultivated and exchanged within a community, without being commodified or commercialized by venture capital companies. “The bill does not allow for financial gain, but it does allow for reasonable fees for services provided in conjunction with psychedelics. It allows for community exchange and the development of local culture and community-serving micro-economies.”

Ensuring community access was the first priority for Decriminalize Nature when assisting with the draft’s language, says Carlos Plazola, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature. 

“The second big priority is protection of community based ceremony,” he says. “Ensuring people can have access to healing modalities – all types – beyond just clinical therapy.” 

The second initiative is driven by the activist-led group Decriminalize California, who are gathering signatures to put a sweeping initiative on the ballot in 2022 to legalize psilocybin. The current version of the measure, which is being drafted in a public, “open source” process, seeks to legalize the “personal, spiritual, dietary, therapeutic, and medical use” of psilocybin for anyone 21 or older. 

According to the latest draft of the initiative, personal usage of psilocybin, along with the “cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of edible products and extracts” derived from psilocybin and the “distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers’ markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern.”

Florida 

Following Oregon’s new psilocybin therapy model, Florida Rep. Michael Grieco (D) introduced a bill that would establish a similar legal psilocybin therapy program in the state. Filed in January, HB 549 not only aims to allow the use of psilocybin-assisted therapy to treat mental illness, but it also creates a Psilocybin Advisory Board to “provide licensure requirements for psilocybin product manufacturing facilities, service centers, facilitators, and testing laboratories and permitting requirements for licensed representatives.” The bill is currently in the Professions & Public Health Subcommittee.

Kansas 

Kansas currently has a sweeping drug decriminalization bill in committee. Filed last month by Rep. Aaron Coleman (D), HB 2288, similar to other broad decrim bills, would make the possession of personal amounts of a controlled substance a civil penalty and reduce the criminal penalties for manufacture and distribution. 

The bill also makes a distinction between cannabis and other drugs, despite cannabis’s controlled status in Kansas. If the bill were to pass, anyone found in possession of a drug other than marijuana would have to partake in a drug abuse treatment program in addition to paying the fine.

Maine

On March 10, Rep. Anne Perry (D) introduced a bill, LD967, that would decriminalize the use or possession of small amounts of all controlled substances, including psychedelics, statewide. The bill, backed by The Maine Recovery Advocacy Project and sponsored by Perry, Stacy Brenner (D), Heidi Brooks (D), Rachel Talbot Ross (D), and Charlotte Warren (D), would “favor treating drug use with health services, rather than with criminalization,” reports The Calais Advertiser.

Fluence8-Ad

Perry cites the success of Portugal’s all drug decriminalization in 2001 as an influence. “More than a decade later… drug use [there] has remained about the same – but arrests, incarceration, disease, overdose and other harms are all down,” she tells The Calais Advertiser, referring to data given to her by The Drug Policy Alliance

The bill is currently with the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

Massachusetts 

Massachusetts has two bills relating to statewide decriminalization in progress. 

Last month, Rep. Mike Connolly (D) introduced HD 3829, a bill that would create a 21-person task force to study entheogenic plants and fungi with the intent to reduce penalties for, and potentially legalize, consuming, possessing, and distributing entheogenic substances. The task force would research and review many areas of decriminalization and drug policy, including “the impact of controlled substances prohibition on marginalized groups, including indigenous people, veterans, people with physical and mental health disabilities, Black people, people of Latino and Hispanic heritage, people of Asian descent, people of color, people in poverty, and people identifying with the LGBTQ community.” 

Senate bill SD 2248 and House bill HD 3439, both introduced last month and both titled “An Act Relative To Harm Reduction and Racial Justice,” aim to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of controlled substances. It would reduce the penalty from a criminal offense to a civil offense that is subject to a fine or health screening. Marijuana Moment acknowledged that the bills’ names and content address, “the disproportionate arrests and prosecutions of racial minorities under the war on drugs.” 

The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Julian Cyr (D) and the House bill is sponsored by Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D). 

Michigan 

On March 5, Decriminalize Nature Michigan announced that they were ready to introduce legislation that would decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi throughout the state of Michigan. The current draft is similar to the ordinance that passed in Ann Arbor last September, with some added language around eliminating penalties for personal possession, reports Truffle Report. “We’re looking to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi, things like mushrooms and mescaline containing cacti, ibgoa, ayahuasca, and we’re looking too add some language to the public health code,” Decrim Michigan’s co-director Julie Barron tells Truffle Report. 

According to Truffle Report, the “draft bill is still under discussion,” and will likely “take some months to a year before it is introduced in the Michigan legislature.” The organization says it is currently reviewing the draft legislation with city attorneys and a Democratic Senator who intends to sponsor the bill. Barron would not disclose the name of the Senator. 

Missouri

In February, a bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Davis (R) that would add psychedelics to the state’s “Right to Try” law and expand the current legislation to include not only terminally ill patients, but also people with debilitating or life-threatening illness. Under the new bill, if a seriously ill person has exhausted all approved avenues of treatment, a physician can recommend an investigational drug like LSD, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT, MDMA, or psilocybin as an additional treatment option. 

It would also reduce criminal penalties to misdemeanors for possession of small amounts of controlled substances, unless the substance is being used in accordance with the “Right to Try” law. 

In a statement with Crossing Paths Pac, Rep. Davis said “My proposal protects the liberty interests of Missourians who believe these drugs offer valuable options in the treatment of numerous conditions, and, importantly, aligns Missouri law with federal law with respect to investigational drug access.”

New York 

New York Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D) has taken a step towards decriminalizing magic mushrooms in the state by introducing a bill that would remove the hallucinogenic compounds psilocybin and psilocin from the list of controlled substances. This is Rosenthal’s second attempt at psilocybin drug reform. She introduced a similar bill last year that died in committee. But unlike 2020’s bill, measure A06065 which was introduced earlier this month, includes psilocin, an important active hallucinogen in magic mushrooms. 

In her memorandum in support of the legislation, Rosenthal said, “Many cities, including Denver, CO, Santa Cruz, CA, and Oakland, CA, have already decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin, and New York should do the same.”

In addition to Rosenthal’s measure, a broad decriminalization bill was introduced in January by Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D), chair of the Senate Health Committee. The legislation aims to decriminalize possession of illegal substances and expunge previous convictions related to unlawful substance possession. It would also set-up a drug decriminalization task force to “develop recommendations for reforming state laws, regulations and practices so that they align with the stated goal of treating substance use disorder as a disease, rather than a criminal behavior.”

Vermont

Rep. Brian Cina (P/D) introduced measure H.309 last month which would decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi, as well as their compounds. The measure states that criminal penalties would be removed for “chemical compounds found in 14 plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.” The bill does not include LSD or MDMA, which would remain regulated substances. 

In addition to measure H.309, a second, broader drug decriminalization bill was introduced earlier this month by Reps. Selene Colburn (P) and Logan Nicoll (D). Similar to Oregon Measure 110, H.422 would reduce penalties for small amounts of illegal substances from criminal to civil violations subject to a small fine or a health screening. This includes possession and dispensation.

“In general there’s many of us trying to decriminalize human behavior that’s become sort of stigmatized and judged by others but the main impact is on the person,” Rep. Brian Cina told Marijuana Moment in February. 

Lawmakers of both bills are sponsors or supporters of each other’s efforts. The bills are in committee with no hearings scheduled as of today.

Washington

Treatment First Washington, a coalition of activists ranging from mental health experts and elected officials to the formerly incarcerated, are pushing for full drug decriminalization with bill HB 1499, also known as “Pathways to Recovery Act.” 

The bill was introduced in the state legislature in February and sponsored by state Reps. Lauren Davis (D), and Kirsten Harris-Talley (D). It closely follows Oregon’s approach to decriminalize the use of all drugs. The bill also seeks to expand “proven treatment and support services for substance abuse disorder,” according to their February press release

There are some differences between the Washington and Oregon bills, reports Crosscut. In Oregon possession remains a civil violation subject to a $100 fine, but the Washington bill would refer those caught with a substance to treatment programs without penalties or fines. The bill also does not specify what amount would be considered personal or commercial use, which will be determined by a future rule-making process. 

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are reviewing the bill and have yet to announce a position. 

In parallel with the legislation, an effort to expand access to therapeutic psilocybin, and the resulting lawsuit, could affect the legal standing of psilocybin mushrooms used in a therapeutic context in Washington. 

Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a physician who specializes in end-of-life care and co-director of Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute, is pushing for both state and federal approval to grow psilocybin mushrooms and use them to therapeutically treat terminally ill patients. 

In November, Aggarwal applied to the Washington State Department of Health’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission “for a license to grow psilocybin mushrooms with the eventual goal of using them to treat patients in palliative care,” reported Marijuana Moment. The state has yet to respond to his request. 

On January 15, 2021, Aggarwal approached the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to request permission to prescribe psilocybin to terminally ill patients. The DEA declined his request, stating that they did not have the authority to waive the Controlled Substances Act. Now, in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, Aggarwal and his clinic are suing the DEA. On March 8, they filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing the “Right to Try Act,” a law signed by President Donald Trump 2018 that allows eligible patients access to treatments that have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

“The idea of ‘Right To Try’ is to respect the realities that the patients may not have much time,” Kathryn Tucker, Aggarwal’s attorney, tells OPB.

See Also

LOCAL INITIATIVES

New Paltz, New York 

Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society and Decriminalize Nature NY have collaborated on a citywide resolution that will be presented to the New Paltz Village board on March 24 in a public hearing. “We are awaiting confirmation if this resolution will be brought to a vote on that date or at a later time,” says Daniel Grauer, co-founder and executive director of Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society. 

The resolution will decriminalize possession, use, cultivation, exchange, and ceremonial practice of naturally occurring plant medicines, making them the lowest law enforcement priority for New Paltz. The resolution would also decriminalize the use and possession of all controlled substances.

The Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society has asked New Paltz residents who are in favor of this resolution to sign their petition to show support, which they will send to the New Paltz Village board members before March 24. 

Northampton, Massachusetts 

Today, March 18, the Northampton, Massachusetts City Council will vote on a resolution to decriminalize all controlled substances, including psychedelics, sharing an approach that proved successful for Measure 110 in Oregon last year. Drafted by Decriminalize Nature Massachusetts and Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, it “attack[s] the entire war on drugs,” says James Davis, lead organizer for Bay Staters. He added that Northampton’s legislation is notable for acknowledging the “hard work of local harm reduction organizations in the resolution.”

The bill is sponsored by Councilor Rachel Maiore, who envisions the decriminalization policy as an “opportunity to cast off the burden of a failed drug policy.” The bill is also sponsored by Councilor Bill Dwight. 

“Based on conversations with the council, we expect that it will pass unanimously on April 1st after its first hearing tomorrow,” says Davis.

Port Townsend, Washington 

The Port Townsend Psychedelic Society has called on the Port Townsend City Council to consider a citywide resolution that would decriminalize psilocybin, ayahuasca, iboga, DMT, and mescaline, making them the lowest priority for local law enforcement for both Port Townsend and Jefferson County, which their website states are “thoroughly interwoven communities” for whom the resolution is equally relevant. 

Councilmembers Monica MickHager and Amy Howard, and Deputy Mayor David Faber have expressed support for the resolution.

“I think it makes absolute sense to decriminalize at the state level and federal level, for that matter, and while we’re waiting for that, to go for making them lowest priority for enforcement,” Faber told The Leader. 

Spokane, Washington

Decriminalize Spokane has submitted an initiative to decriminalize psilocybin and other entheogenic plants to the city of Spokane, and are collecting local signatures to get their proposal on the ballot for 2022. 

Mason Lord, chair of Decriminalize Spokane and sponsor of the city initiative, tells Spokane Public Radio that “if he can get enough signatures to get it on the ballot, Spokane voters could join a national effort to change policies around mushrooms and other plant-based substances that carry heavy legal penalties.”

RESEARCH BILLS

In addition to drug policy reform initiatives, a number of legislative efforts have been introduced to facilitate further research into the medical use of psychedelic substances. 

In Connecticut, a research bill filed in January by Rep. Josh Elliot (D) would establish a task force to study the health benefits of psilocybin. 

Last month Texas Rep. Alex Dominguez (D) filed HB 1802, legislation that would “evaluate the therapeutic efficacy of alternative therapies, including the use of MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine, in the treatment of mental health and other medical conditions.” Under the new legislation, the Department of State Health Services and the Texas Medical Board would collaborate on the study and present their findings by the end of 2022. 

Meanwhile, a newly proposed resolution in Virginia would have state officials begin studying decriminalization models, such Oregon’s, that move away from a crime-control approach to drug use and instead emphasize public health. “Such reforms have resulted in significant financial savings to such states,” the Virginia resolution says, “in both the adjudication of criminal cases and the reduced burden on jails and prisons.” The bill is currently tabled.

In Washington, DC the Plant Medicine Coalition (PMC) is building support for federally sanctioned psychedelic research. According to their January press release, the group intends to ask Congress to put $100 million dollars towards research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics – natural and synthetic – to treat PTSD, depression, anxiety, and addiction. 

“We think a good starting point for federal lawmakers is to ask for research funding,” says Melissa Lavasani, founder of PMC and head of the Decriminalize Nature D.C. campaign which decriminalized psychedelics locally last November. “It’s an incremental approach to making big change happen.” 

While decriminalization and rescheduling may not seem like a big ask to those who already advocate it, an elected official with little familiarity may still be swept up in the negative sensationalism that follows psychedelic substances, she says. “Congress has a bit of catching up to do when it comes to education around plant medicine.”

At this time, the goal is to speak with 100 congresspeople, says Lavasani. While the current focus for PMC is the federal work and local implementation of Initiative 81 in DC, the organization is supporting other state and local initiatives around decriminalization and research bills where they can. 

Lavasani hopes that this funding will lead to a wider body of research around psychedelics, more advanced clinical trials, and more serious conversations around drug policy. She also envisions psychedelics as being more deeply integrated in our mental health system. 

“I think that psychedelic policy will look like nothing that’s ever happened before,” says Lavasani. “We’re creating new paradigms in policy, and how the U.S. thinks about healthcare in general.”

Correction: The story has been updated to include Maine in the list of state-wide decriminalization efforts.

Support Psychedelic Journalism

© 2020 Lucid News. All Rights Reserved.