Massachusetts lawmakers introduced legislation Friday that will attempt to end the state’s war on drugs. One proposal would remove criminal penalties for possession of all drugs, while the other would establish a task force to study plant- and fungi-based psychedelics with the eventual goal of legalizing and regulating the substances.
Calls to end criminal prohibition have been growing across the state, and two city councils—in Somerville and Cambridge—earlier this year adopted measures making possession of psychedelics the municipalities’ lowest law enforcement priorities.
The statewide decriminalization bill, HD 3439, introduced Friday by Reps. Liz Miranda (D) and Mike Connolly (D), would replace criminal penalties for the possession of any controlled substance with a civil fine of up to $50. To avoid the fine, individuals could enroll in a “needs screening to identify health and other service needs, including but not limited to services that may address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services.”
The Senate version of the legislation, SD 2248, was introduced Friday by Sen. Julian Cyr (D) and is virtually identical to the House bill. Both measures are titled “An Act Relative to Harm Reduction and Racial Justice,” an acknowledgment of the disproportionate arrests and prosecutions of racial minorities under the war on drugs.
A separate House bill introduced by Connolly on Friday could eventually take Massachusetts past simple decriminalization and allow for regulated sales of certain drugs.
Initially HD 3829 would establish an interagency task force that would “study the public health and social justice implications of legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation, and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi.”
Between now and June 2022, the 21-person task force would study the effects of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics and develop recommendations for how to legalize the substances “in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants.”
Particular focus would be paid under the bill to the impact of drug prohibition on 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.”
The measure also calls for the task force to develop recommendations around “pardons, parole, diversion, expungement, and equity measures” for people with criminal records due to possession, or distribution of controlled substances.
“Our coalition owes these bills to our volunteers across the Commonwealth,” the group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, which was behind the successful local decriminalization efforts in Somerville and Cambridge, told Marijuana Moment in a statement. “From the vicious pain of opioid addiction and cluster headaches to the exclusion of people of color from the mental health care system, it’s your stories of redemption and hope that have created this movement.”
The organization added that as it works to “decriminalize all substance possession and psychedelic cultivation in three additional cities, our goal of decriminalizing 90 percent of the population in Massachusetts by next year is within reach.”
Other drug reformers also greeted the bills’ introductions on Friday as an opportunity to advance conversations around decriminalization, saying the measures are a sign lawmakers are paying close attention to work done by local harm-reduction advocates.
“I’m looking forward to a dialogue in Massachusetts to identify the most effective and evidence-based public health and harm reduction strategies that should replace the failed drug war,” Shaleen Title, a former Massachusetts cannabis regulator and longtime drug policy activist, told Marijuana Moment.
“You know that the war on drugs is taking its last dying breaths when you see well-respected legislators from all over Massachusetts listening to and centering groups like Families for Justice as Healing and Black and Pink Massachusetts, which are led by the people most directly affected by drug policing and enforcement, instead of supporting continued racially targeted drug arrests,” Title said.
Elsewhere across the country, lawmakers are considering similar reforms to roll back or eliminate drug penalties.
On Thursday, a California lawmaker, state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) introduced legislation that would legalize the possession and social sharing of a number of drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT and MDMA. It would also provide for the expungement of past criminal records for possession or use. The state would establish a task force under the proposal to study potential future regulatory systems around psychedelics, with a report due in 2024.
A Republican lawmaker in Iowa introduced a bill earlier this month that would remove psilocybin from the list of controlled substances and another to let seriously ill patients use psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, DMT and other drugs.
In Texas, a state legislator introduced a bill last week to require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in the treatment of certain mental health conditions.
In nearby Vermont, lawmakers are expected to introduce a number of drug reform bills in coming weeks, including a measure to decriminalize all drugs and a separate proposal, expected Tuesday, that would remove psychedelic plants and fungi from the state’s list of regulated substances.
“Humans have had a close relationship with plants and fungi that goes back to the very beginning of humanity,” Vermont Rep. Brian Cina (P/D), who sponsored the psychedelics bill, told Marijuana Moment this week. “But the legacy of colonization has left us with the criminalization of these medicinal, spiritual, religious, entheogenic medicines.”
This story was updated to include comment from Bay Staters for Natural Medicine.
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