Massachusetts lawmakers filed two bills on February 19, vying for drug policy reform in the state. While one bill aims to establish an intra-agency task force to study equitable access to psychedelic plants, eventually legalizing entheogens, the other proposes to decriminalize possession of all drugs state-wide. This comes after two Massachusetts city councils, Somerville and Cambridge, decriminalized possession of all drugs in the last two months, making possession of illicit substances the lowest enforcement priority in their respective jurisdictions.
The new legislation HD 3829, introduced by Rep. Mike Connolly (D), directs the senate and the house chairs of the joint committee on public safety to appoint a task force to ‘compile and review research regarding the physiological and psychological effects of entheogenic plants and fungi’. The task force would also compile data and testimony on the experiences of other cities of the U.S. that have decriminalized possession to understand their harm-reduction strategies.
With a timeline ending in June of 2022, the task force would be responsible for suggesting methods for the safe legalization of entheogens, and ensuring the maximum equitable access and ‘sustainable manufacture of these plants’, keeping in mind the harm-reduction and healthcare models. It also includes the language of expungement, parole, and pardons related to previous or existing cases.
Connolly’s bill has a special emphasis on reviewing research ‘regarding the impact of controlled substances prohibition on marginalized groups’ that includes BIPOC communities, people of Asian, Latino and Hispanic descent; and those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community.
Another bill, HD 3439, also sponsored by Connolly and co-sponsored by representative Liz Miranda (D), focuses on ‘harm reduction and racial justice’ in Massachusetts. It will strike out section 34 from the state law that prohibits possession of controlled substances, lowering the punishment to a civil fine of ‘not more than’ $50 or a choice to participate in a ‘needs screening to identify health and other service needs.’ The screening would ‘address any problematic substance use and mental health conditions, lack of employment, housing, or food, and any need for civil legal services,’ and would be carried out by personnel who are trained ‘in the use of evidence-based, culturally and gender competent trauma-informed practices.’
With the bill titled ‘An Act relative to harm reduction and racial justice’, the lawmakers are paying special attention to the issue of over-prosecution and incarceration of racial minorities, one of the main effects of the War on Drugs.
“Massachusetts will be the gold standard for legalizing psychedelic plants and treating all controlled substances as an issue of public health,” Bay Staters for Natural Medicines, a grassroots organization in Massachusetts says.
“These bills lay the groundwork for our team to decriminalize cities for 90 percent of the population of Massachusetts by the end of this year and pass a total and equitable legalization bill next year informed by the best and most compassionate minds we can find,” it adds.
Similar reforms are being filed in other U.S. state legislatures, pushing for drug policy reforms across the country.
So far, eleven new bills in ten state legislatures have been filed by lawmakers, all aiming for some version of drug policy reform, be it the decriminalization of psychedelics —or all drugs— or bills to study the potential benefits of either psychedelics or legalizing psychedelic-assisted therapies.
Vermont is likely to be the next state to launch its initiative, probably scheduled for Tuesday this week, after state lawmakers announced their plan during a press conference earlier this month.
Ritika is a Toronto-based reporter. She writes about drug policies and developments in psychedelics.