Seventh Massachusetts City Votes To Deprioritize Arrests For Psychedelic Plants And Fungi

December 13, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

Lawmakers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, voted this week to adopt a resolution in support of decriminalizing the use, possession and noncommercial sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi. It’s the seventh municipality in the state to deprioritize arrests for entheogens.

The statement also calls on the county district attorney to cease prosecutions for psychedelics-related activity as well as for simple possession of all drugs. Further, it urges state lawmakers to amend a pending proposal that would legalize psychedelics in all of Massachusetts and could end up on the 2024 ballot.

The Provincetown Select Board passed the resolution on a 3–1 vote on Monday, with a fifth member of the board abstaining. The measure “requests that investigation and arrest of all adults for planting, cultivating, distributing, engaging in practices with and/or possessing psychedelic plants and fungi” be the town’s lowest law enforcement priority, according to a reading of the resolution by Boardmember Erik Borg before the vote.

It also “requests the use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood first and primarily as an issue of public health by all town entities” and asks that no municipal employee “use any town resources to assist in enforcement of laws criminalizing personal controlled substance possession.”

The resolution, which also calls on the county district attorney to cease prosecution of people for “possession, cultivation or distribution or psychedelic plants and fungi as well as personal possession of controlled substances,” emphasizes that it does not authorize commercial sales, driving under the influence of psychedelics, possessing or distributing the substances near schools or “public disturbance.”

The group behind the advocacy effort, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (BSNM), has helped enact similar local policies to deprioritize enforcement of state laws against psychedelics in six other Massachusetts cities: SalemSomervilleCambridgeEasthamptonNorthampton and Amherst.

During a presentation to the Provincetown Select Board, BSNM Executive Director James Davis said the resolution would accomplish three main goals: help promote education about psychedelics for public health, generate economic opportunity for Provincetown and to help guide reform at the state level.

Davis said that according to internal economic projections, BSNM believes passing the local measure could “could generate nearly $13 million a year in tax revenues for this municipality,” though he said later on in the presentation that the group projected overall economic activity in Provincetown to be between $920,000 and $13.8 million.

Pressed on where that money would come from, Davis replied that under proposals pending at the state level, facilitators could register at the state level for less than a few hundred dollars and guide psychedelic services, including for tourists from out of state.

Davis got into a back-and-forth with one member of the board, Leslie Sandberg, who said she supported the reform in concept but believed that psychedelics should only be available to people under direct medical supervision.

“I really think that the first and most positive step is that you have a medical card for it, and you work with a medical professional,” said Sandberg, adding that she knows people in clinical trials for psychedelic-assisted therapy and already believes in the substances’ medical potential.

“How it helps people under medical supervision is amazing,” she told Davis. “I don’t think it should be for recreational use… You’re offering this, and people are going to start self-medicating.”

Ultimately Sandberg abstained in the final vote, explaining that while she couldn’t vote for the reform, she also felt she couldn’t vote against it.

Another member of the board said at Monday’s meeting that he worried the Select Board lacked authority to direct law enforcement activity, as the bill seemed to do.

Davis replied that because the measure is a resolution, it’s generally understood as a request or statement of the body’s position rather than an explicit instruction.

“In other townships where we’ve worked, we acknowledge that this is a resolution,” he told the board. “It’s already understood to be an ask of the police department and the city employees it specifies.”

“I’ve had a version of this discussion many times,” Davis added, “and we often maintain because it’s a resolution that those changes are not as necessary… And we feel that a strong statement starts that dialogue with the police department and helps us carry on that work.”

The municipal-level advocacy is unfolding as advocates attempt to bring about change at the state level. And among its other provisions, the new Provincetown resolution weighs in on how that advocacy should unfold.

Specifically, the resolution calls on state lawmakers “to substitute the Natural Psychedelic Substance Act, a ballot question written by a DC-based PAC, with language that legalizes plant medicine services in a straightforward manner, without an unelected control commission prone to regulatory capture by interests outside our communities.”

The measure, by the campaign Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, says it turned in more than enough valid signatures earlier this month to force legislative consideration of its psychedelics legalization initiative before potentially putting the issue on the state’s 2024 ballot.

The proposal would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities. It would also legalize the possession and gifting of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, but it would not otherwise provide for commercial retail sales of the substances.

The campaign first filed two different psychedelics reform initiatives in August. 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.

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.

Activists hit a temporary snag last month after local officials flagged problems with a sizable batch of petitions that featured a union logo in violation of the state’s ballot rules. The campaign responded by deploying hundreds of petitioners for an intensive signature drive, more than making up the difference.

If the secretary of state affirms that there are enough valid signatures, the legislature will then have the choice to enact the reform, propose a substitute or decline to act. If lawmakers decide not to legalize psychedelics by May 1, activists would then have until July 3 to submit at least 12,429 additional valid signatures to put the proposal before voters on the November 2024 ballot.

Davis at Monday’s Provincetown Select Board meeting rejected the idea of the act’s unelected advisory board, and BSNM has previously said it’s preparing to offer lawmakers a revised version of the initiative this spring. The group, which previously expressed support for the ballot measure version allowing home cultivation, is now proposing to strike the language to create a regulatory commission, and it wants to give localities that authority to restrict psychedelics services in their areas.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) recently introduced legislation that includes provisions to create a psychedelics working group to study and make recommendations about the potential therapeutic benefits of substances like psilocybin and MDMA for military veterans.

Separately, in the Massachusetts legislature, a Republican lawmaker filed three psychedelics reform bills in April, 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. (Full Story)

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