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Maine’s Biggest City Advances Proposal To Decriminalize Psychedelic Plants And Fungi

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A City Council committee in Portland, Maine, unanimously advanced a resolution last week that advocates say would decriminalize certain psychedelic plants and fungi. The measure is now on track for a full council vote as soon as mid-October.

The Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee, which passed the resolution on a 3โ€“0 vote on Tuesday, also amended the bill to cover home cultivation of natural entheogens for personal use and sharing without compensation. Criminal enforcement would not change for selling, dispensing, possessing on school grounds or driving under the influence of the substances.

Plants and fungi that would be affected by the measure, backed by organizers at Decriminalize Maine, include those containing psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline (except peyote), and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Peyote is excluded “in light of its vulnerable ecological status, combined with its religious and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples,” the document notes.

The resolution would maintain “that City of Portland departments, agencies, boards, commissions, officers or employees of the city should avoid using city funds or resources to assist in the investigation, criminal prosecution or the imposition of criminal penalties” for the covered activity. The substances would remain illegal under state law, but the city would deprioritize enforcement.

The measure says that “the use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood primarily as an issue of public health.” Enforcing state law against the personal use, possession, cultivation and sharing without compensation of substances, it continues, “shall be among the lowest law enforcement priority of the City of Portland.”

Councilor Anna Trevorrow introduced the amendments to allow sharing and home cultivation for personal use. “The rationale around that is to kind of discourage people from entering the black market to obtain substances,” she explained, “and to encourage a safer method of using substances, which is kind of in keeping with cultural usage, which is communal and sharing.”

Before voting, the panel heard comments from the public on the resolution. Among speakers, support for the change was unanimous.

Wendy Chapkis, a sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine and board member of Decriminalize Maine, told the body that people in Portland “are already taking plant medicines like psychedelic mushrooms.”

“While these substances aren’t dangerous in terms of things like addiction or overdose risk, they are powerful, and it’s important that people can consume them in safe and supportive environments,” she said. “Decriminalization will make that much more likely.”

Chapkis also emphasized that the policy shift would also benefit “older adults facing end-of-life issues, like extreme anxiety,” who she described as “people who should be doing these substances but aren’t.”

“There’s really good research that shows that psychedelics can relieve some of the problems that this population is facing,” she said, “but those people most often have no idea how to access these medicines or how to use them.”

As a resident of Portland for more than 30 years, Chapkis said she saw the measure as “another opportunity for our city to lead the way by joining the more than a dozen other cities in the United States that have already decriminalized psychedelic botanicals and have done so in a way that avoids the problems of commercialization through the grow, gather, give model.”

According to an August email from Chapkis to council that was included in meeting documents, the Portland resolution was originally based on a similar psychedelics measure in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Councilor April Fournier said before the vote that “really the intent for moving this forward is from a medical and wellness perspective, really looking at the natural use of these different plants as they were intended to really support these populations, and being able to use, again, the medicine that makes the most sense for them on their healing journey.”

Kristen Down, Portland’s director of health and human services, spoke briefly to note that the measure would need to be checked against city grants and contracts to ensure decriminalization wouldn’t jeopardize federal funding, including a recent $4 million grant. Fournier said that would happen before a full City Council vote.

A first council reading could happen October 2, “and then, barring any delays, I think council action would be the 16th,” Fournier said.

Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization in recent years since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019. Massachusetts has seen at least five jurisdictions pass decriminalization language: Salem, Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton. And four cities in Michigan have adopted similar measures: Ferndale, Detroit,ย Ann Arborย andย Hazel Park.

In California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have passed psychedelics decriminalization measures, and the state legislature recently passed a bill toย legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of certain psychedelics for adults 21 and older, while also taking steps to develop a regulatory model to access them for therapeutic or facilitated use. The governor will decide on that and a slew of other drug-policy bills by October 14.

An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded thatย a majority of states will legalize psychedelicsย by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.

According to a national poll published in March, a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapyย and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.

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