Psilocybin mushrooms, an entheogenic plant, growing wild in Redding, California. (Photo: D.C.Atty via Flickr)

There was an easy win Monday in support of following the decriminalization of marijuana with decriminalizing entheogenic plants, which include such things as mushrooms, cacti and ayahuasca – all natural substances that can be used recreationally as drugs, but also as treatment for medical conditions and addictions.

The City Council agreed 8-1 with an order written by councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler that the city make arresting adults with such substances “amongst the lowest law enforcement priority” (and that the city should call on the Middlesex County District Attorney to stop related prosecutions) and that no money or resources should go into such law enforcement efforts. Instead, the order calls for use and possession to be looked at in the context of public health.

The holdout was councillor Tim Toomey, who didn’t offer his thoughts on the matter. But in offering approval, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and councillor Dennis Carlone said they were grateful for how educational the motion had been.

Toomey did not respond to an email asking why he opposed the measure. But he later told The Harvard Crimson why: “I felt that I did not have enough information … and would have preferred that this matter had a committee hearing that allowed for proper input from our public health and public safety officials.”

Though entheogenic plants and substances have been used for hundreds of years for spiritual purposes, research has shown they have benefits for conditions such as PTSD, depression and for treating addictions to heroin and other opioids, which are on the rise during the pandemic, Sobrinho-Wheeler said.

“The city, of course, can’t legalize any drugs on our own – that’s up to the state and the federal government. But the city can deprioritize enforcement. The Department of Justice has made very clear that municipalities have this power,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said, noting that Somerville had recently passed a similar measure with the support of its mayor and legal department. “For this resolution, I reached out to [our] city manager, the solicitor and the police commissioner, and none had objections.”

Science, psychotherapy and industry

Several people spoke during public comment about the move – all in favor, and often on a scientific and financial basis.

“The field of biotechnology itself owes a great deal to psychedelic-inspired scientific creativity,” said Nicholas White, of Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, citing the double-helix structure of DNA, the invention of polymerase chain reaction and even the PCR test being used to test for Covid-19 infections. He said the industry had spent more than $500 million in 2019 on related work: engineering bacteria that produce cannabinoids. “The Cambridge community in general will benefit, and then the biotech community specifically.”

Francis Guerriero, a psychotherapist, said he had extensive experience in drug-related therapies and saw benefits and “no detriments” for his patients, while Boston resident Mike Overstreet said he knew two people in research trials with entheogenic drugs who had seen “great results” for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

“We all know that the war on drugs has been a complete and utter failure, with policies that needlessly put police in harm’s way and doesn’t just ruin lives, but ruins households and neighborhoods for generations to come,” Overstreet said.

Also, Overstreet said, “this really looks like it’s gonna be the next industry, following cannabis.”


This post was updated Feb. 5, 2021, to correct that the biotechnology had invested more than $500 million in 2019 on work related to entheogenic, not any specific company; and Feb. 8, 2021, to adjust a paraphrase of comments by Nicholas White about engineering bacteria that produce cannabinoids; and Feb. 14 with a Tim Toomey quote from The Harvard Crimson.

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