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Massachusetts Joint Committee Urges Lawmakers Not To Pass Psychedelics Legalization Initiative, Teeing Up Final Push For Ballot Placement



A Massachusetts joint legislative committee is advising the legislature not to pass a psychedelics legalization initiative—but activists are already collecting additional signatures to put the reform before voters on the November ballot.

Lawmakers were required to consider the psychedelics measure, spearheaded by the campaign Massachusetts for Mental Health Options (MMHO), after the state certified advocates had submitted enough valid signatures in an initial petitioning round last year. The legislature had until May 1 to make a decision before the campaign was cleared to collect another 12,429 signatures by July 3 to secure ballot placement.

Last week, the Special Joint Committee on Ballot Initiatives issued a majority report that formally recommended against passing the measure as drafted. This comes just over a month after the panel held a hearing to gain expert feedback on the proposal.

The report acknowledges that a growing body of scientific literature shows psychedelics such as psilocybin “may be highly effective in addressing a variety of adverse mental health conditions” when administered in a controlled environment.

But it says these “promising findings, however, have not provided evidence that the widescale recreational legalization of these substances would be beneficial, let alone safe.”

The joint committee also said it believes the measure’s primary goals of licensing psychedelics service centers while broadly decriminalizing the substances for adults “likely undercut each other by creating two separate systems for the use of psychedelic substances.”

“The petition would both create a system of state-licensed and taxed therapeutic facilities on the one hand and, on the other, decriminalize the cultivation, possession, and distribution of a variety of hallucinogenic and psychoactive substances,” it said.

“Voters are, therefore, being asked to simultaneously establish a potentially costly licensure system that imposes regulations on the cultivation methods, quality of product and allowable means of engaging certain users, while at the same time making the same substances widely available for individual cultivation and use across the Commonwealth in a non-licensed manner.”

Because the proposal would allow adults to legally possess certain amounts of psychedelics outside of a licensed center and “gift” the substances, lawmakers said that would likely lend to an unregulated market.

“The Committee finds that this loophole would likely subvert the safety regulations imposed on licensed facilitators by permitting the growth of an unregulated, unlicensed marketplace,” the report says.

Members further cautioned that the licensed psychedelics industry would face the same barriers to financial services that the existing marijuana market does due to federal prohibition, raising concerns about creating another cash-intensive marketplace that would pose public safety risks.

“For these reasons, we, the majority of the Special Joint Committee on Initiative Petitions, recommend that ‘An Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to the Regulation and Taxation of Natural Psychedelic Substance’ (see House No. 4255) as currently drafted and presented to this Committee, OUGHT NOT TO BE ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE AT THIS TIME.”

The report also noted that the committee received input from the state psychedelics advocacy group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM), urging lawmakers to make various revisions to the legalization initiative. But the panel cited court precedent stipulating that the state Constitution only authorizes the legislature to “provide minor technical changes to an Initiative Petition.”

MMHO, the campaign behind the initiative, didn’t waste any time launching a final signature gathering round to put the issue before voters this November.

Jennifer Manley, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Marijuana Moment on Monday that they “weren’t surprised with the findings” in the report, though she pushed back on the idea that decriminalization and regulation provisions are in conflict. She said “there are restrictions and guardrails” in place under the measure that would protect against potential abuses.

“We are really excited about it. We had to collect many in the fall—and in the process of doing so, you get to meet so many people who are already passionate about this issue, and then you have the chance to educate voters who are not,” she said. “So we had a really enthusiastic response in the fall, and we are expecting to have the same enthusiastic response now to have the signatures” for ballot placement.

“When we started doing this—when we started gathering signatures in the fall—we didn’t know what we were going to encounter. You never know when you’re going out to public spaces,” she said. “And we were met with overwhelmingly positive support. It was great.”

Here are the key details of the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act:

  • Adults 21 and older could legally possess, grow and share certain amounts of psychedelics.
  • The covered psychedelics and possession limits are: DMT (one gram), non-peyote mescaline (18 grams), ibogaine (30 grams), psilocybin (one gram) and psilocin (one gram). Those weight limits do not include any material that the active substances are attached to or part of.
  • The penalty for possession of amounts of up to double the limit would be a $100 civil fine, with amounts above that remaining criminalized.
  • A Natural Psychedelic Substances Commission would be created to oversee the implementation of the law and licensing of service centers and facilitators.
  • The body, which is modeled on the state’s existing Cannabis Control Commission, would be required to enact rules for regulated access of at least one psychedelic by April 1, 2026. Regulations for the rest of the substances would need to be created by April 1, 2028. It would also need to start accepting applications by September 30, 2026.
  • A Natural Psychedelic Substances Advisory Board would “study and make recommendations” to the commission about issues such as public health, regulations, training for facilitators, affordable and equitable access, traditional use of psychedelics and future rules, including possible additions to the list of legal substances.
  • Psychedelics purchased at licensed facilities would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, and localities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax if they permit the centers to operate in their area. Revenue would be used to fund regulation of the program.
  • There are no provisions on expunging prior convictions for activities that would be made legal.
  • Local governments could enact regulations on the time, location and manner of service centers, but they could not outright ban them from operating in their area.
  • Adults could propagate psychedelics in a maximum 12X12 ft. space.
  • There would be civil legal protections related to professional licensure, child custody and public benefits for people who participate in a legalized psychedelic activity.
  • The effective date of the law would be December 15, 2024. The commission and advisory board would need to be created by March 1, 2025.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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The campaign first filed two different psychedelics reform initiatives in August, and after the state attorney general determined that they both met the constitutional requirement for ballot placement the following months, activists decided to pursue the version that included a home cultivation option.

Eight cities across Massachusetts have enacted policies to locally deprioritize enforcement of laws against psychedelics, an effort that has been led by BSNM: SalemSomervilleCambridgeEasthamptonNorthamptonAmherst, Provincetown and Medford.

Meanwhile, a different Massachusetts legislative committee advanced a bill in February that would legalize psilocybin therapy in the Commonwealth and set up a framework to license facilitators who would supervise medical, therapeutic and spiritual applications of the drug.

Separately, Gov. Maura Healy (D) in January drew attention to testimony around a veterans-focused bill that she’s introduced to create a psychedelics work group that would study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

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.

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Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.

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