Massachusetts activists have filed a pair of initiatives to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and allow for licensed facilities to provide supervised services that could go before voters on the state’s 2024 ballot.
Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, which submitted paperwork to form the ballot committee last month, officially submitted the measures on Wednesday.
The two initiatives are nearly identical, except that one would allow adults 21 and older to cultivate their own psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Overall, both would remove criminal penalties for low-level possession of five entheogenic plants and fungi, while establishing a licensing scheme for psychedelic service centers where professionals could administer the substances in a regulated environment.
“We’re facing a severe mental health crisis in Massachusetts and across the country. First responders are on the frontlines—not only in helping others but oftentimes suffering themselves from trauma and burnout,” petitioner Sarko Gergerian, a police lieutenant and psychotherapist, said in a press release. “Natural psychedelic medicines have the potential to heal us in ways that no other therapy can. The need for this is overwhelming, and I pray this will appear on the ballot next year.”
The new statewide push in Massachusetts comes amid a sizable local psychedelics movement that has seen six cities across the commonwealth move to decriminalize natural plants and fungi.
The campaign is being backed by the New Approach PAC, which has financially supported successful psychedelics reform efforts in other states like Colorado.
Here are the key details of the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act:
- Adults 21 and older could legally possess 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.
- Under the version that does permit home cultivation, 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.
“A growing body of research from some of the nation’s most respected medical research institutions shows that psychedelics hold tremendous promise in treating depression, end-of-life anxiety, and other serious mental health challenges,” Franklin King, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said. “Evidence is likewise clear that the current legal scheduling of naturally occurring psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin is neither appropriate nor scientifically based.”
“I see the effects of the mental health crisis in the emergency room every day, and believe psychedelic therapy offers a potential option to help address this crisis,” he said. “This ballot question will make these tools readily available in a safe and responsible context.”
After the attorney general prepares a summary of the measures and completes a public comment period, the campaign will need to collect an initial batch of 74,574 valid signatures from registered voters and turn them into the secretary of state’s office by the first Wednesday of December.
At that point, the measure or measures would be set to the legislature, which could choose to enact them, propose a substitute or decline to act. If lawmakers decide not to pursue the reform by the first Wednesday of May 2024, activists would then have until the first Wednesday of July to submit at least 12,429 additional valid signatures.
Notably, the version of the initiative that allows for home grow is being endorsed by Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, an organization that has spearheaded a half dozen local psychedelics reform measures in the state and that previously criticized the statewide ballot campaign for a lack of consultation in the lead-up to the filing. The group is neutral on the measure that lacks a home cultivation option, however.
“Psilocybin mushrooms helped me open my heart to other people, working through pain and grief that life deals to all of us,” James Davis, co-founder of Bay Staters, said in a press release distributed on Wednesday by the new campaign. “It has been humbling to help bring these gifts of nature to the mainstream, so they can be made accessible for healing.”
“After my combat service in the Gulf War, the Veterans Administration put me on over 100 medications, including opiates, for my post-traumatic stress,” Michael Botelho, a Marine veteran and cofounder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, said. “Just two grams of psilocybin mushrooms helped me kick those addictive meds. I could get up. I could work. I could live again.”
“If we don’t allow people to access plant-based psychedelics affordably and grow their own then the message is that it’s okay to let veterans die,” he said.
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Meanwhile, in the legislature, a Republican lawmaker recently filed three psychedelics reform bills, 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.
Read the text of the two version of the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act below:
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.
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