May 16, 2023
By Kyle Jaeger
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Salem, Massachusetts lawmakers have approved a resolution to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms.
Members of the City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to pass an activist-led measure making it the local government’s official policy to deprioritize enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession and cultivation of psilocybin.
This is the latest Massachusetts city to enact some form of psychedelics decriminalization as the national reform movement continues to expand, though it is the only one to focus on psilocybin alone. Other cities that have taken broader psychedelics action include Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton.
The resolution notes that psilocybin has significant therapeutic potential for the treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction. And it says that criminalization as policy has failed, contributing the mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
The local measure doesn’t remove criminal penalties for the substance, but it states that the “arrest of adult persons for using or possessing psilocybin-containing fungi” as well as the “investigation and arrest of adult persons for cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing psilocybin-containing fungi” should be “amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the city of Salem.”
The resolution says that “no City of Salem department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city should use city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of psilocybin-containing fungi by adults.”
It further calls on the Essex County District Attorney to “deprioritize the prosecution of persons involved in, but not limited to psychedelic-assisted therapeutic services, possession, sharing or cultivation of psilocybin-containing fungi and the use or possession without the intent to distribute” and requests that the mayor direct city staff to “work with the city, state and federal partners in support of decriminalizing all psilocybin continued fungi.”
The advocacy group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine worked on the legislation. Activists with the organization have led the local reform effort in various cities as it continues to promote statewide psychedelics reform.
Councilmember Alice Rose Merkl (D) said at last week’s hearing that psilocybin “isn’t just another option for treatment—this is very promising” and “there’s great potential here.”
Councilmember Andrew Varela (D) added that “it’s really smart of the city of Salem to focus on one thing, and that would be psilocybin-containing fungi.”
“I think that this could be a model for other communities,” he said. “This could be a model that we start small and we start with something that has a great impact like psilocybin. I look forward to maybe seeing some more change within the Commonwealth when it comes to these substances.”
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine said that Salem’s chief of police, Lucas Miller, backed the local reform.
“The indications that psilocybin could be helpful for opiate addiction is something that should not be ignored,” he was quoted as saying in a press release from the group. “We lose about 20 people in Salem a year to opioid overdose.”
At the state level, a Republican lawmaker recently filed three psychedelics reform bills, including proposals to legalize substances like psilocybin and reschedule MDMA pending federal approval while setting a price cap on therapeutic access.
There are several other pieces of psychedelics legislation that have been introduced in Massachusetts for the session by other legislators, including separate measures to legalize certain entheogenic substances for adults.
Another bill would authorize the Department of Public Health to conduct a comprehensive study into the potential therapeutic effects of synthetic psychedelics like MDMA.
Rep. Mike Connolly (D) also filed a bill in 2021 that received a Joint Judiciary Committee hearing on studying the implications of legalizing entheogenic substances like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Massachusetts is just one of numerous state where lawmakers are pursuing psychedelics reform this session.
Last week, for example, the governor of Arizona signed into law budget legislation that includes provisions to fund research into the medical potential of psilocybin mushrooms for a variety of conditions.
The Connecticut House of Representatives approved a bill last week to decriminalize possession of psilocybin mushrooms, sending it to the Senate.
The governor of Washington State signed a bill last week to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment.
Vermont lawmakers held a committee hearing this month where members discussed legislation to legalize psilocybin and take first steps toward providing regulated access to the psychedelic.
A California bill to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and facilitated use of the substances is heading to the Senate floor under an accelerated process that is allowing it to skip further committee consideration.
The Minnesota House recently passed an omnibus health bill that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
Last month, a Republican North Carolina lawmaker and a bipartisan group of cosponsors filed a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.
A Nevada Senate committee approved a revised bill last month that would create a new working group to study psychedelics and develop a plan to allow regulated access for therapeutic purposes.
The Hawaii Senate approved a bill last month to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
Oregon regulators recently approved the nation’s first license for a psilocybin service center where people will be able to use the psychedelic in a supervised and facilitated environment.
Meanwhile, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow told senators last week that there is emerging evidence that psychedelics carry “significant potential” as therapeutic treatments for certain mental health conditions, and it’s a topic of “great interest” for researchers.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
A national poll published in March found that a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.