Volunteer for Somerville-based Bay Staters for Natural Medicine
Somerville, Cambridge, and Northampton have acted to significantly limit arrests for the possession, cultivation, and exchange of psychedelic plants. As an Army veteran and a volunteer for Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, I believe our Commonwealth should follow their lead by decriminalizing these substances.
Psychedelic plants like psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, and ibogaine have life-changing spiritual properties. Older Massachusetts millennials suffer among the highest depression rates in the nation, yet one study found mushrooms are four times more effective in treating major depression than conventional medication. A recent analysis of clinical trials cited the benefits of psychedelic-assisted therapy in treating PTSD and terminal illness anxiety. A single non-addictive psychedelic experience can relieve lifelong issues. Yet in Massachusetts, possessing psychedelic plants is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
If psychedelic plants are not fully decriminalized, as we propose — but simply allowed for targeted medical purposes — a small number of companies through patents could monopolize the market for these substances that indigenous people have used safely for many millennia. This corporate medicalization could make psychedelics inaccessible to people of color and in poverty who distrust the medical system and cannot afford insurance.
Medical access will take decades, but there’s no time to waste: We are losing too many friends and neighbors each month to overdoses. Yet a 2017 study found that psychedelic use is associated with 40 percent reduced risk of opioid abuse. The African psychedelic plant Ibogaine helps people reduce opioid use and withdrawal.
Requiring insurance for access will leave veterans out to rot. Traumas can evade formal diagnoses, as many veterans grieve the sacrifice of fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization Heroic Hearts Project connects veterans suffering PTSD with legal psychedelic access in other countries without profit motive.
Our vision, supported overwhelmingly by Massachusetts residents, is simple. Stop wasting money on arresting people for controlled substance possession and instead fund community services. Arrests deprive people of jobs, making substance use disorder worse. Oregon has estimated its decriminalization of controlled substances will reduce racial disparities in arrests for possession by 95 percent. Let’s do right by our communities by prioritizing public health and racial justice over incarceration.
Walpole Police chief; Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association liaison, Governor’s Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Mental Health; member, Massachusetts Cannabis Advisory Board
Decriminalizing possession, use, and cultivation of psychedelic drugs would create many adverse public health and safety consequences.
Applying terms such as “plant based” is misleading, and serves to minimize the real hazards associated with psychedelic drug use. Naturally occurring psychedelic substances can be extremely harmful when consumed, as users may experience an altered state of mind, hallucinations, inability to recognize reality, and even psychosis. Psychedelics may also exacerbate difficulties experienced by emotionally disturbed persons, thereby compromising the well-being of users and bystanders.
People under the influence of psychedelic drugs risk suffering from delusions, panic, and sense of fright, or experience bouts of paranoia. These situations often elicit calls to law enforcement, where officers face situations of dynamic and unpredictable behavior.
The most common types of psychedelic drugs found in Massachusetts are psilocybin, derived from mushrooms, and mescaline, the psychedelic substance found in certain types of cactus plants, usually the peyote cactus. While these substances are “plant-based”, they remain classified as a class C substance under Massachusetts law.
Decriminalizing drugs diminishes court referrals and access to drug treatment typically offered through the criminal justice system, where the vast majority of intervention occurs. Drug courts in Massachusetts have demonstrated substantial success in diversion from incarceration to providing drug treatment and recovery, as well as reducing recidivism of drug offenses. Aside from possession and use, decriminalizing cultivation or manufacturing of plant-based psychedelics only fuels the illicit market, and increases access and availability of these mind-altering drugs.
Police departments have the option of placing drug-incapacitated people in protective custody as an alternative to arrest. Police officers routinely defer to this practice to ensure incapacitated victims receive acute care at health facilities as opposed to applying criminal charges.
Illicit drug use tears at the fabric of our communities, and has lasting effects on individuals and loved ones. Decriminalization of harmful drugs brings no benefit. We need to focus on ways to assist people in refraining from drug use, and not encourage or enable it. While the criminal justice system may not always be the best option in accomplishing this goal, it is an important option that should remain part of the treatment and recovery system.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact email@example.com.