Even more efforts are underway to decriminalize natural psychedelic substances in Massachusetts. Activists have filed two separate initiatives to legalize psychedelics for possession and grant licensed facilities permission to provide facilitated services. While the paperwork to form the Natural Psychedelic Substances Act was submitted last month, it has been officially submitted to be placed on the 2024 ballot. The advocacy group, Massachusetts for Mental Health Options, created the ballot initiatives to remove criminal penalties for low-level possession of certain entheogens and create a licensing framework for psychedelic service centers for trained professionals can safely administer these substances in a regulated setting.
The campaign is supported by New Approach PAC, a substantial investor that has funded other psychedelic reforms around the country.
Age restrictions and possession limits
Individuals who are 21 years and older would have the legal right to possess and share specified amounts of psychedelics.
The psychedelics covered by this law and their allowed amounts are as follows:
Natural psychedelic substances advisory board
The legislation will create a natural psychedelic substances advisory board that will be responsible for various aspects, such as:
Natural psychedelic substances commission
Excise taxes and revenue allocation
No expungement of prior convictions
Local government regulations
For the act to officially pass, the attorney general must provide a summary of the measures and give time for a public comment period. After that, the campaign must collect at least 74,574 signatures for registered voters. The signatures must be sent to the secretary of state’s office by December 6, 2023. If passed, the law’s effective date would be December 15, 2024, and the commission and advisory board must be established by March 1, 2025.
The Natural Psychedelic Substances Act is one of many legislative reform bills seeking to lessen strict laws around entheogens in Massachusetts.
Back in April, Rep. Nicholas Boldyga (R) filed three psychedelic reform bills. HB 3589 proposes the legalization of possessing, cultivating, and gifting up to two grams of psilocybin, DMT, non-peyote mescaline, and ibogaine for adults over the age of 21. HB 3605 aims to legalize the facilitated use of psilocybin for adults over the age of 18 for “therapeutic, spiritual, and medicinal purposes. Finally, HB 3574 would automatically reschedule MDMA to treat PTSD if approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). HB 3574 would also set a price cap of $5,000 per facilitated MDMA session to avoid price gouging. Although Rep. Boldyga considers himself the “most conservative” member of the legislature, he believes that “Locking people away in jail for using plant medicines that have been used by other cultures for thousands of years, is a travesty of the failed medical and criminal justice system of this country.”
Although none of these proposals have yet passed, Massachusetts appears to be making significant strides toward reevaluating its stance on natural psychedelic substances. With all of the potential ballot measures advancing further, citizens of Massachusetts will soon have a say on whether they think their state is ready for the legalization — or at least decriminalization — of entheogens.
Massachusetts may be lessening its grip on drug laws as a new proposed bill seeks to decriminalize certain natural psychedelics. Throughout the bay state, psilocybin mushrooms and other plant medicines like ibogaine and DMT have been decriminalized in several Massachusetts communities such as Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, and Easthampton. This trend will spread statewide if the bill passes.
So far, Oregon and Colorado have already decriminalized psilocybin, while other states like California, Washington, and New Hampshire are trying to pass similar decriminalization bills. In the 2023 legislative session, several proposals have been made to decriminalize natural substances. However, it is still unclear if the law will accept these psychedelic medicines. Only time will determine whether or not the proposals are accepted.
According to the Boston Herald, Sen. Patricia Jehlen presented Senate Bill SD 949 (later changed to SD 1009) to the Massachusetts General Assembly earlier in January. The proposed law seeks to decriminalize the use of certain “natural medicines” among legal adults. Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, likewise, introduced House Bill HD 1450 with the same purpose.
The bills have been titled “An Act Decriminalizing Entheogenic Plants and Fungi.” Both lawmakers stand for the idea that these natural medicines should not be considered a criminal offense. However, Jehlen commented to GBH News that law enforcement rarely enforces the law against these substances. If the bills pass, those who use psychedelic substances for personal use will be legally protected from prosecution and criminal penalties.
According to the bill:
“The possession, ingestion, obtaining, growing, giving away without financial gain to natural persons 18 years of age or older, and transportation of no more than two grams of psilocybin, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, and mescaline, excluding the weight of any material such as water, plant and fungi material of which the substance is a part or to which the substance is added, dissolved, held in solution, or suspended.”
Ultimately, adults in Massachusetts can freely consume, grow, and even gift these naturally occurring substances as long as there is no money transfer involved.
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a Massechusetts-based grassroots organization that advocates for plant medicine, works towards decriminalization efforts throughout the state. They have successfully helped decriminalize psychedelics in several Massachusetts cities.
The group is now working alongside Sen. Jehlen and Rep. Sabadosa to decriminalize the substances throughout the entirety of Massachusetts. James Davis, one of the co-founders and lead organizers of the group, argues, “There’s no better way to promote intentional and mindful use than to decriminalize minor amounts for home growing and sharing without enabling commercial sale.”
Unlike the legalization of cannabis, Jehlen emphasizes that the bill is not meant to create a profitable industry for these substances.
The recent proposals to loosen drug laws appear to be in line with what the people of Massachusetts want, as revealed by a Boston Globe poll showing that nearly 90% of voters favor a decriminalization policy. The bill seems likely to pass with the support of organizations, medical professionals, and state residents.
The proposed decriminalization bill would revise the state General Law’s Section 50, “Entheogenic Plants and Fungi.”
Entheogenic substances tend to be associated with plant and fungi medicine, which can cause an alteration in consciousness to those who consume them for religious or spiritual needs. Though the amendment would not completely legalize the substances, decriminalization would prevent harsh punishments. In addition, people who practice entheogenic religions will remain protected under the Religious Freedom Act.
The proposed bill would also allow access to plant medicines used outside of spiritual purposes. Studies have found that psychedelic substances like psilocybin “showed statistically significant benefits while also having fewer negative side effects than standard drugs” while tested in clinical trials against depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If psychedelics are no longer criminalized, it could create further openings for psilocybin-based health care, providing more effective therapies for mental health conditions.
Additionally, decriminalization efforts could help reduce the opioid crisis in America. Research has revealed that individuals with illicit opioid abuse have a lower risk of opioid misuse after being treated with psychedelic compounds, with a 27% reduction in dependence and a 40% reduction in the risk of past-year abuse (2). According to the study, “These findings suggest that psychedelics are associated with positive psychological characteristics and are consistent with prior reports suggesting efficacy in the treatment of substance use disorders.”
Although entheogens such as psilocybin have been gaining traction in the scientific world, they have been around for thousands of years and used by different cultures for religious, healing, and spiritual reasons. There are a variety of these psychoactive substances that exist naturally on the planet. Still, due to the criminalization and negative perceptions surrounding them, accessing and utilizing them has become increasingly challenging. Despite this, entheogens are seeing a resurgence in scientific interest.
Much of our research is rooted in the traditional knowledge of these remedies. Despite that, most of the credit is typically attributed to Western medicine and scientists. Even though these substances are becoming more commonplace across American healthcare, it is essential to recognize the indigenous people who have safeguarded their knowledge despite colonization and have kindly shared it with us. This knowledge has helped us advance our treatments and support those seeking new therapies.
Although psychedelic substances are still illegal under federal law, the enactment of this proposed state law may bring the U.S. one step closer to legislative reform. This bill, which has received strong backing, could decriminalize plant-based psychedelics, thus allowing more people to access them for religious, medicinal, or recreational purposes. During this upcoming legislative session, keep an eye out to observe the outcomes of Massachusetts and other states seeking decriminalization in 2023.