Medford, Massashusetts decriminalizes psychedelics, urges state to replace ballot initiative
Medford follows Provincetown to become eighth Massachusetts city to decriminalize psychedelics. City Councilors seek state lawmaker substitution of ballot initiative from New Approach PAC
Late Tuesday night, Medford, Massachusetts, home of Tufts University, became the eighth city in the state to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi.
Councilor Leming, a neuroscience researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Psychedelic Week, “A growing body of scientific research has found plant medicine uniquely beneficial for treating addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.” Lemming added, “history is riddled with legislative mistakes that occur because all mind-altering substances are criminalized, misunderstood, and treated with fear. This resolution is one step closer to having nuanced and science-backed policy in Massachusetts.”
In adopting the resolution, Medford joins Somerville, Cambridge, Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton, Salem, and Provincetown, which previously deprioritized enforcement of criminal penalties. The vote sets a new national record for Massachusetts, which contains more cities where psychedelics are decriminalized than any other state.
Like the Provincetown Select Board, which took similar action in December, Medford urges state lawmakers to replace a 2024 ballot initiative proposed by the Washington, DC-based New Approach PAC (New Approach) before it reaches Massachusetts voters in November.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, it was initially unclear whether the resolution would pass. After Leming and Callahan introduced the proposal, Councilor George Scarpelli expressed concerns. He said that because the resolution involves law enforcement, the Council should send it to a subcommittee for input from the Chief of Police. To that end, Scarpelli moved to send the matter to the Council’s Public Health and Community Safety Committee.
Councilor Kit Collins responded with support for the resolution and suggested that the Council vote that evening without tabling it for further discussion. Like Collins, Councilor Justin Tseng initially expressed comfort voting on the resolution last night. Collins then asked to hear public testimony before the Council voted on Scarpelli’s motion.
The Council heard comments from Medford and Boston area residents, including James Davis, a co-founder of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (Bay Staters). With a coalition of other regional organizations, Bay Staters has supported local psychedelic decriminalization throughout Massachusetts and New England. Last year, they supported a successful resolution in Portland, Maine, the first in that state.
Most public comments supported the resolution from Lemings and Collins. However, a final speaker expressed concerns regarding distribution of plant-based psychedelics. He also raised a 2023 incident where an airline pilot allegedly ate psilocybin mushrooms days before attempting to seize control of a plane mid-flight.
In response, Councilor Tseng emphasized that the resolution would not legalize distribution or change local drug laws. Instead, Tseng said it would be a policy recommendation from the Council. However, one of the resolution’s sponsors, Councilor Callahan, said she would respect Scarpelli’s and any other colleagues’ desire to gather additional information before voting.
The Council approved Scarpelli’s motion to send the resolution to the Public Health and Community Safety Committee. However, toward the meeting’s conclusion, Councilor Leming introduced an amended version of the resolution, which would request input from the Chief of Police after its passage.
In a Wednesday email to Psychedelic Week, Bay Staters’ Davis praised Leming’s amendment. “We welcome everyone sharing their concerns because that’s how we educate and persuade people,” said Davis. “We welcome conversations with police because we believe officers are benefiting from plant medicine as public servants with their own traumas.”
Upon reconsidering the resolution with Leming’s amendment, the Council approved it in a 6-1 vote. According to a Bay Staters press release (printed below), “the Medford City Council voted to officially designate growing and sharing psilocybin “magic” mushrooms and related psychedelic plants as the lowest priority of law enforcement.”
For comment on the Medford resolution and its call to replace their 2024 ballot initiative, Psychedelic Week emailed the New Approach PAC (New Approach) and the related ballot campaign Massachusetts for Mental Health Options. New Approach referred questions to Jennifer Manley and Emily Oneschuk who represent the campaign.
Psychedelic Week asked Manley and Oneschuk if the campaign would support a substitute bill offered by the legislature if it resembled language drafted by State Representatives Nicholas Boldyga and Patricia Jehlen or formed a work group to study various approaches to psychedelic legalization. Governor Maura Healey proposed a similar work group in November.
Oneschuk said she had “testified in support of the [work group] proposal from Governor Healey to expand research opportunities for psychedelics and their potential benefits for veterans like me.” Oneschuk added, “I strongly believe that we need to work collaboratively to make sure all voices are heard during the campaign.”
Speaking on behalf of the campaign, Manley, said “[b]efore we are able to take a position on whether to support any proposed substitute ballot language, we would like to meet with supporters of that and understand their motivations and concerns.” Manley added, “We are not aware of any substitute language that has been filed in the Massachusetts General Court at this time.”
But within the legislature, plans to scrutinize and potentially substitute all ballot initiatives are heading up. Last month, House and Senate leaders formed a special committee for that purpose. According to a statement from Senate President Karen E. Spilka and Speaker of the House Ronald J. Mariano, the “State Constitution tasks the Legislature with considering each initiative petition, and with giving interested parties the ability to provide feedback on the policy changes being sought at the ballot box.”
To promote open discussion and detailed analysis of each ballot proposal, Spilka and Mariano formed the Special Joint Committee on Initiative Petitions. The committee “is especially equipped to tackle the unique challenges presented by the legal and policy intricacies of the questions this year. The Legislature looks forward to a fair, balanced, and informed public process for the consideration of all initiative petitions.”
It seems Bay Staters, city councilors, and other stakeholders will have opportunities to share their concerns with the Special Joint Committee. One concern relates to the cost of services under the campaign’s proposed ballot initiative.
“This has already been passed in Oregon,” said Leming on Tuesday, referring to New Approach’s 2020 campaign to build and implement Oregon’s psilocybin services program. Leming said, “long story short, it’s made the price of these plant medicines go between one and three thousand dollars.” He urged state lawmakers to provide alternatives. Acting “through elected representatives, would help to decriminalize it and not create this sort of artificial price.”
Bay Staters expressed similar concerns in its press release, claiming New Approach built “a system in Oregon that is widely criticized for its prohibitive costs and the taxpayer bailouts it required.” Last year, the Oregon psilocybin program received $3.1 million from the state to continue operations.
Another concern relates to a new state agency the campaign ballot initiative would create. “We do not want another Cannabis Control Commission debacle,” said Davis in the press release.
In 2023, three top officials of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission were suspended and investigated, including chair Shannon O’Brien. The agency director resigned under somewhat mysterious circumstances. In December, State Senator Michael Moore said, “the agency, is in disarray” and called for an oversight hearing.
“Putting an unelected control commission in charge of drafting rules for psychedelics in Massachusetts is not the best path forward,” said Jamie Morey, who leads Parents for Plant Medicine, “especially after a similar body in Oregon has made treatment ridiculously expensive and out of reach for most who need it.”
On Tuesday, Councilor Leming agreed. An “avenue that is currently being pursued is a signature collection method, which would basically create an unelected commission that if passed in Massachusetts, would add its own regulation to these plant medicines.” He urged the City Council to support efforts by State Representative Jehlen to decriminalize psychedelics.
Yesterday, Leming told Psychedelic Week, “I am proud that Medford is now the eighth city in Massachusetts to support statewide decriminalization.”
Bay Staters’ full press release is pasted below:
Press Release: Medford Votes to Decriminalize Magic Mushrooms, Calls for Changing the Psychedelic Ballot Question
Medford is the birthplace of the songs "Jingle Bells" and "Over the River and Through the Wood." It has now achieved another—albeit less musical—claim to fame: embracing the benefits of natural psychedelics.
On Tuesday evening, the Medford City Council voted to officially designate growing and sharing psilocybin "magic" mushrooms and related psychedelic plants as the lowest priority of law enforcement. The measure cites the benefits that naturally-occurring psychedelics have for trauma, neurological diseases, and addiction. For its part the Food and Drug Administration classifies psilocybin mushrooms as a“breakthrough therapy” for depression, yet the substance remains illegal federally and statewide.
"A growing body of scientific research has found plant medicine uniquely beneficial for treating addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. History is riddled with legislative mistakes that occur because all mind-altering substances are criminalized, misunderstood, and treated with fear. This resolution is one step closer to having nuanced and science-backed policy in Massachusetts," said Medford City Councilor and AI researcher Matt Leming, who presented the measure.
The city joins seven other Massachusetts communities, including Somerville and Cambridge, to pass a measure in partnership with Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a volunteer group that educates people in the therapeutic use of psychedelics. The community group regularly hosts nature forages, potlucks, and grow trainings to bring people together to learn about psychedelics. Many volunteers, including those who organized for the Medford measure, have used the plant medicines to feel more grounded and inspired to change their lifestyles.
Last month, Provincetown's psychedelics measure called for the state legislature to change a ballot question being pushed by an "out-of-state PAC," according to Boston Globe. The PAC created a system in Oregon that is widely criticized for its prohibitive costs and the taxpayer bailouts it required. Medford joined Provincetown in calling for the ballot question to be changed before going to voters.
"We are grateful for the efforts of our Medford volunteers educating their neighbors to build support for this work. We humbly ask Senator Jehlen, Representative Day, and other state leaders to protect this emerging field of mental health and addiction treatment by changing the ballot question. We do not want another Cannabis Control Commission debacle," said James Davis, a co-founder of Bay Staters and Medford organizer.
"Putting an unelected control commission in charge of drafting rules for psychedelics in Massachusetts is not the best path forward, especially after a similar body in Oregon has made treatment ridiculously expensive and out of reach for most who need it. Our elected legislators, who answer directly to the people they represent, should be the ones making important decisions about these regulations, with affordability and accessibility as their primary goal," remarked Jamie Morey, a leader for the Massachusetts advocacy group Parents for Plant Medicine.
Massachusetts advocates are calling for the ballot question to be changed by the state legislature before going to voters to protect the affordability of future services. They maintain that creating another unelected control entity like the Cannabis Control Commission will give rise to similar controversies, licensing rules that drive up costs, and even the potential of taxpayer bailouts that occured in Oregon. The PAC has not offered a defense of these claims nor distanced itself from the Oregon model.
“This out-of-state PAC created a front group, ‘Massachusetts for Mental Health Options,’ to confuse voters and force through laws that will make it impossible for vets like me to afford this care. This is the same PAC that created a failed system in Oregon and corporatized cannabis here in Massachusetts as well,” said Michael Botelho, the founder of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine who shared with NBC Boston how mushrooms helped him work through combat PTSD.
Advocates see this local education work as a way to support passage of Senator Jehlen's An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, which has enjoyed bipartisan support. The legislature is expected to vote on the bill as well as changes to the ballot question within the next month.
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine: firstname.lastname@example.org
New England Veterans for Plant Medicine: email@example.com
Parents for Plant Medicine: firstname.lastname@example.org
*The views expressed on Psychedelic Week do not represent the views of Harvard University, POPLAR at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, Florida State University, or Yale University. Psychedelic Week is an independent project unaffiliated with these and other programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is a Visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is also the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at Florida State University, senior fellow and project lead of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, and an affiliated fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Marks teaches drug law, psychedelic law, constitutional law, and administrative law. Before moving to Florida, he served on the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board where he chaired its Licensing Subcommittee. Marks has drafted drug policies for state and local lawmakers. His forthcoming book on psychedelic law and politics will be published by Yale University Press. He tweets at @MasonMarksMD and @PsychedelicWeek.