Massachusetts legislators held a joint legislative committee hearing last week to consider an initiative to legalize the therapeutic use of natural psychedelics. At the hearing, lawmakers heard from both supporters and opponents of the proposal, which can be approved by the legislature or referred to voters to decide the issue this November.

The proposed ballot measure is supported by Massachusetts for Mental Health Options (MMHO). The group is affiliated with New Approach, a political action committee that supported successful bids to legalize psychedelics in Oregon and Colorado. If passed, the proposed ballot measure would legalize “naturally occurring” psychedelics such as psilocybin mushrooms, peyote (mescaline), and ibogaine for consumption in “therapeutic settings through a regulated and taxed system.”

MMHO has already submitted nearly 100,000 signatures on petitions to support the ballot measure, sending it to the state legislature for consideration. If lawmakers do not approve the measure by May 1, supporters will be given until July 3 to collect an additional 12,429 valid signatures. If the signature drive is successful, the initiative will be placed on the ballot for the November general election.

Advocates Speak in Favor of Psychedelics Proposal

On March 26, the Massachusetts state legislature’s Special Joint Committee on Initiative Petitions held a hearing on the psychedelics therapy legalization ballot measure (Bill H.255). Emily Oneschuk, a military veteran and MMHO’s grassroots campaign director, told lawmakers about the mental health challenges she faced while serving in the U.S. Navy, including sexual assault, bullying and sexual harassment. After Oneschuk left the Navy, she took psilocybin at a retreat in Jamaica, where the psychedelic compound is legal.

“The whole of my psychedelic experience and the community associated with it has profoundly improved my quality of life,” Oneschuk told the committee, according to a report from the Commonwealth Beacon. “It brought me exactly where I needed to be to become a healthier and happier person.”

Dr. Franklin King, the director of training and education at the Mass General Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, researches the effects of psychedelics. He told the joint committee that there is substantial evidence showing that psychedelics have therapeutic value for mental health conditions. He also noted that studies have repeatedly shown that the drugs can be taken by patients safely and effectively.

“The current legal status of psychedelics as dangerous drugs…is egregiously incorrect,” said King. “[For this] class of psychedelics, particularly psilocybin, the medical risks are extremely minimal and potential for abuse is close to zero. Millions of patients who need access to the benefits of psychedelics likely do not require the strict controls of the medical model.”

Franklin continued by saying that the current prohibition of psychedelics is hindering research and denying people with mental health challenges an alternative to less effective drugs.

“The criminalization of psychedelics not only impedes scientific progress, but also denies individuals access to potentially life changing treatments,” King told lawmakers, according to a report from New England Public Media. “We must adopt a more rational approach, one that prioritizes evidence based policies over outdated stigmas and prohibitions.”

Massachusetts Psychiatrists Urge Caution

Not everyone at the hearing, however, was there to support the psychedelics therapy legalization proposal. Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told lawmakers “We really don’t know what are the potential harms.”

Rosenbaum agreed with testimony from supporters about the potential benefits of psychedelics. But he also warned about the potential for people to misuse the powerful compounds.

“Psychedelics are not something people can use casually at full doses,” he said in testimony cited by Boston’s NBC News affiliate. “They really require being in a safe place with support for most people.”

The psychiatrist acknowledged similarities between the campaign to legalize marijuana, which succeeded in Massachusetts in 2016 with the passage of a ballot measure that received more than 63% of the vote. But he added that reforming policy governing psychedelic drugs should be approached with more caution.

“The psychedelics are used very intermittently, not continually the way marijuana can be. The effects are much more profound,” he said.

Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center and the incoming president of the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society, also testified before the committee. He told lawmakers that there has not been enough research on the public health outcomes of legalizing psychedelics.

Democratic Senator Paul Feeney, a member of the legislative committee, noted that psychedelics are already being used recreationally by many people and asked Ghaemi if it would be better if lawmakers adopted regulations governing their use. The witness agreed, but only if the ballot measure is approved in November. Otherwise, he said the legislature should wait until additional research has been completed.

The joint committee will now review the testimony given at the hearing before voting on whether to advance the proposal.

The post Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider Psychedelics Therapy Legalization Bill appeared first on High Times.

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