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Policymakers Discuss Psychedelics Reform’s Far Out Future in HLS Webinar

Psychedelics reform advocates discussed decriminalizing drugs, reducing stigma, and centering Indigenous voices in a Harvard Law School webinar on Wednesday.
Psychedelics reform advocates discussed decriminalizing drugs, reducing stigma, and centering Indigenous voices in a Harvard Law School webinar on Wednesday. By Brandon L. Kingdollar
By Emmy M. Cho and Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writers

Psychedelics reform advocates discussed decriminalizing drugs, reducing stigma, and centering Indigenous voices in a Harvard Law School webinar on Wednesday.

The webinar marked the launch of the Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Policy’s Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation — a three-year initiative to study the economic, legal, and social implications of psychedelics.

In his opening remarks, U.S. Representative Earl F. Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a longtime cannabis reform advocate, said he hopes to extend Oregon’s historic progress on psychedelic decriminalization to the federal level. In November 2020, the state decriminalized possession of all controlled substances.

“I promise you I will do my part — not only assisting in the evolution of the Oregon program, but I plan on bringing this movement to Capitol Hill this year in the same way we developed the foundation for the support of our cannabis work,” Blumenauer said.

The American public broadly favors drug reform, Blumenauer said. He urged federal lawmakers to update policy to align with the public’s views.

“I would like your center to be able to help raise awareness on Capitol Hill at this critical time in drug reform,” Blumenauer said. “Our advantage is that the American public is ahead of the legislature and other policymakers.”

California State Senator Scott Wiener, one of the panelists, introduced a drug reform bill in his state inspired by Oregon’s. His bill would decriminalize the possession of seven psychedelic substances in California, including psilocybin and “MDMA.”

“You can have whatever opinion, anything you want, about whether people should use psychedelics,” Weiner said. “But the question for you is, ‘should we be arresting and incarcerating people for possessing and using these drugs?’”

Beatriz C. Labate, executive director of the Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines, said the conversation on psychedelic reform should prioritize Indigenous voices.

“There is a branch of our movement that is completely disrespectful to Indigenous people,” Labate said. “Activists that have disregarded, disrespected, trashed, vandalized, and vulgarized the authentic leadership of the Native American Church in this country.”

Wiener said Indigenous perspectives were taken into consideration when revising the California decriminalization bill — specifically regarding peyote, a psychedelic substance central to the spiritual practices of the Native American Church.

“There were people, including the Native American Church, who believed that it should not be included in the bill because it would lead to peyote tourism, and there are already federal protections for Indigenous practitioners,” Wiener said. “We ultimately did not include peyote in the bill.”

Discussing the stigma surrounding psychedelics, Labate shared the story of an employee who was forced out of her apartment after her landlord discovered she works for a psychedelic research institute.

“We’re still faced in the moral graves that we put ourselves in stigmatizing and not understanding psychedelics,” Labate said. “It’s 500 years of colonization, it’s still happening. We’ve still got work to do.”

David Shurtleff, a neuroscience researcher at the National Institutes of Health, said psychedelic research is key to reducing stigma.

“Rigorous, objective research that’s unbiased — I think that’s really going to get us out of this conundrum,” Shurtleff said. “The brain doesn’t know from legal or illegal.”

Dustin Marlan, one of the panel moderators, wrote in an email that he hopes the event can “alleviate some of the stigma” around psychedelics.

“I hope that increasing numbers of people will come to see psychedelic law reform as a pressing matter of social justice,” he added.

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at emmy.cho@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at brandon.kingdollar@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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