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Following Local Successes, Cambridge State Rep. Puts Forward Bills on Controlled Substance Reform

Legislators introduced bills in the Massachusetts Legislature last month aimed at decriminalizing controlled substances and examining the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms.
Legislators introduced bills in the Massachusetts Legislature last month aimed at decriminalizing controlled substances and examining the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writer

Massachusetts State Rep. Michael L. Connolly, a Democrat who represents parts of Cambridge and Somerville, submitted two bills in the Massachusetts House last month aimed at reforming controlled substance laws.

The first bill, H.D. 3439, would decriminalize all controlled substances at the state level while the second, H.D. 3829, would form a task force to examine the legalization of entheogenic plants. This category of substances includes peyote, MDMA, and “magic mushrooms,” also known as psilocybin mushrooms, and has been the subject of research in treating depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions.

This is the latest development in a statewide movement toward broad decriminalization and legalization of controlled substances spearheaded by the Massachusetts Coalition for Decriminalization, a collective of several smaller regional advocacy groups. City councils in Cambridge and Somerville recently passed orders calling for the decriminalization of entheogens following votes of 8-1 and 10-0, respectively.

Filed by Connolly and fellow representative Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda, a Democrat who represents parts of Dorchester and Roxbury in Boston, the first bill would replace the current criminal penalties for the use and possession of controlled substances with a civil fine of up to $50 — which would be waived if an individual agrees to “needs screening” to address possible substance abuse issues or other health and wellbeing concerns such as lack of food or housing.

The second bill would create a task force of medical and economic justice experts to study the legalization of entheogenic plants and present findings to the state.

In an interview with The Crimson, Connolly said the successful passage of decriminalization bills in Cambridge and Somerville, as well as legalization efforts in other states such as Oregon, were significant factors in his decision to bring both bills before the House.

“Our communities have expressed through our city officials that they want to move forward in a very progressive fashion,” Connolly said. “Seeing some of the national and international thinking on this issue, combined with this local push to decriminalize these substances has convinced us that this is a conversation that we ought to be having at the State House.”

Connolly said Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a member of the Massachusetts Coalition for Decriminalization, has been in touch with him throughout the process. The group also played a part in organizing support in both Cambridge and Somerville for their respective policy orders, he added.

James Davis, a member of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, credited the Coalition’s wide network of volunteers with the successful movements in those cities.

“Our coalition, including Decriminalize Nature Massachusetts, wrote the resolutions and helped our community volunteers persistently and persuasively contact their representatives to share stories of how these plants have saved their lives from addiction, trauma, and depression,” Davis wrote in an email.

“We’re proud to be offering training in how to fight the whole drug war,” he added.

Both bills are now awaiting public hearings, pending referral to a House committee.

Connolly said public hearings are the “next big milestone,” after which the committee would have until early 2022 to either send it forward with a favorable recommendation or decline to advance it.

“Our immediate goal would be to have a very strong committee hearing and look to move the bill favorably through the committee process,” Connolly said. “Then it would be a matter of looking to build the consensus to get the bill to the floor.”

Brendan T. O’Connor, a member of Decriminalize Nature Massachusetts, said the long timetable for both bills is no reason for pessimism, and that his organization will continue its efforts in the interim.

“The key message that we’ve been adopting is that this doesn’t delay any of our other efforts,” O’Connor said. “We have an internal goal of decriminalizing 90 percent of the state before the end of the year, and that’s a big, audacious goal, and we’ll do that regardless of what the state wants to do.”

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

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