Cambridge, Massachusetts has become the latest city to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics following a City Council vote on Wednesday. But lawmakers also used the opportunity to push for broader reforms that go beyond the entheogen-focused measures approved in other municipalities across the country, calling on police to stop arresting people for possessing or using any illicit drugs.
Local legislators approved the resolution 8-1, making Cambridge the second city in Massachusetts to adopt the psychedelics and drug policy change. The Somerville City Council advanced a similar decriminalization measure last month.
The text of the ordinance states that, like many cities and states across the country, Cambridge has “begun in recent years to recognize that criminalizing users of substances such as cannabis is neither a just or effective legal approach.”
Watch the Cambridge City Council meeting below, starting around 55:44:35:
“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,” it continues.
Congratulations to Cambridge, Massachusetts! Cambridge City Council votes 8-1 to #DecriminalizeNature! The second city in #Massachusetts to decriminalize in 2021. Great work @DecrimNatureMA and @BayStaters! Go team Nature! pic.twitter.com/uE9dZ7DKgp
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) February 4, 2021
In order to resolve the problem, the measures stipulates that enforcement of laws against possession and cultivation of entheogenic plants and fungi like ayahuasca, ibogaine and psilocybin mushrooms should be among the city’s lowest priorities. It also directs the county prosecutor to drop cases related to the possession and use of controlled substances.
It states 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.”
Further, the measure requires the city manager to direct staff that work with the state and federal government to advocate for decriminalizing entheogenic plants and fungi. Additionally, it says the city government cannot use funds to “assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants by adults.”
On Monday, I’m introducing a Cambridge City Council resolution seeking to end criminalization of entheogenic plants & substances like mushrooms.
It’s a step towards understanding substance use through the lense of public health and not the so-called “War on Drugs” pic.twitter.com/QYVTdERLOs
— Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler 🌹 (@VoteJivan) January 31, 2021
One council member said during Wednesday’s meeting that while he was skeptical of the proposal when it was introduced, he appreciated that activists brought it forward because it provided an education on the issue, especially “for older people like me.” He said “it made a difference” and it became “very clear” why the policy change was necessary.
The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that a Massachusetts state representative is planning to file legislation to “create a committee of public officials, scientists, criminal justice experts and others to study whether Massachusetts should decriminalize natural psychedelics and legalize their administration in therapeutic settings statewide.”
The panel could also “study whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of other currently illicit substances,” the outlet said.
In the meantime, Cambridge joins a growing number of cities across the U.S. that have enacted psychedelics decriminalization. Most of the reforms have advanced legislatively, though Washington, D.C. became the first jurisdiction to decriminalize via the ballot in November.
In Oregon, November’s election saw the passage of a historic initiatives to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes and more broadly decriminalize possession of all drugs.
Much of this reform progress can be traced back to Denver, which became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in May 2019. Since then, activists in more than 100 cities have expressed interest in pursuing psychedelics decriminalization.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.
After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution in September, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers in California, New York, Virginia, Washington and other states are considering psychedelics and drug policy reform bills for the 2021 session.