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Decriminalize Maine & Bay Staters Advance Portland Psychedelic Policy
Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and New England Veterans for Plant Medicine join Portland, Maine advocates to decriminalize psychedelics through City Council
Updated Oct 4 to reflect that the Portland City Council adopted its psychedelic resolution on the evening of Oct 2.
On Monday, October 2, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (“Bay Staters”) issued a press release (posted below). According to the statement, Decriminalize Maine, a newly formed nonprofit, invited Bay Staters and New England Veterans for Plant Medicine to help decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelics in Portland, Maine.
Last month, the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee of the Portland City Council unanimously passed a resolution, modeled on those adopted in six Massachusetts cities to deprioritize the enforcement of criminal penalties associated with psychedelics.
Bay Staters and New England Veterans for Plant Medicine educated lawmakers on those resolutions with help from Parents for Plant Medicine and other groups in a growing coalition of New England community organizations.
The Portland resolution will advance for a full City Council vote this evening [update: in a 6-3 vote, the Council adopted the resolution].
Bay Staters’ press release says organizers see Portland’s support of decriminalization “as a critical stepping stone to prevent the corporatization of psychedelics.” It also mentions the “Super PAC trying to reverse our local work in Massachusetts,” referring to the New Approach PAC. This DC-based group clashed with local communities by introducing two psychedelic ballot initiatives in Massachusetts for 2024. Both would create a heavily-regulated program for the supervised adult use of five psychedelics. New Approach recently announced it would support the version that includes home cultivation.
Bay Staters and its New England partners worry about New Approach’s lack of consultation with Massachusetts communities, that the out-of-state PAC will distract from locally-developed legislation, and that New Approach might create an expensive psychedelic program that excludes locals while costing taxpayers more than anticipated.
James Davis, Bay Staters founder and a partner in Portland’s decriminalization effort, said the PAC, “plans to drop tens of millions of dollars to force through laws that limit access and profit off of people in need if we don’t take a stand through our cities.”
Psychedelic Week contacted Jared Moffat, a California spokesman for New Approach who leads its Massachusetts campaign, for comment on Bay Staters’ press release. Moffat did not respond before this article was published.
Mainers can be fiercely independent when it comes to politics. According to Portland resident Nora Flaherty, “Mainers expect their community to be involved in politics, and for politics to serve them, not a political class or party machine.” Consequently, “politics in Maine is much more of an "amateur operation,” said author Kenneth Palmer, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Maine.
Given Maine’s tradition of political independence, it will be interesting to see how New Approach is received should it launch campaigns there, as it has in Oregon, Colorado, and Massachusetts.
The press release from Bay Staters and New England Veterans for Plant Medicine reads:
“Portland Maine Votes to Decriminalize Psilocybin Mushrooms and Related Plant Medicines
Known for its coastal tours, breweries, and hip culture, Portland just became the first city to declare it will end arrests for growing and sharing psilocybin mushrooms as well as related plant medicines such as ibogaine and DMT-containing plants like ayahuasca.
Borrowing its language directly from the measures passed in six Massachusetts communities, including Cambridge, the resolution goes beyond just speaking about plant medicines to criticize U.S. drug policy more broadly. “Drug policy in the United States and the so-called “War on Drugs” has historically led to unnecessary penalization, arrest, and incarceration of vulnerable populations, particularly people of color and people of limited financial means,” it emphasizes.
Decriminalize Maine, a new nonprofit, invited Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and New England Veterans for Plant Medicine to help spearhead the effort by organizing their Maine volunteers and answering tricky questions city councilors had about federal funding.
City officials worried that recent federal government grants could be revoked should a measure come to pass. “Cities like Portland will be more likely to secure research dollars through the National Institutes of Health in the future and at the very least our member cities have continued receiving all grants, including for conventional treatment programs,” the Bay Staters team offered in response.
Education on safe use was a top shelf concern for many advocates as well. Wendy Chapkis, a sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine and board member of Decriminalize Maine, told the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee that “While these substances aren’t dangerous in terms of things like addiction or overdose risk, they are powerful, and it’s important that people can consume them in safe and supportive environments,” underscoring that “decriminalization will make that much more likely.”
Maine, like many states in the Northeast, has suffered tremendously from the opioid addiction crisis, which inspired the momentum and work in Portland as well.
“Given that within an hour of reading this there will be another overdose among our friends and neighbors in Maine and that a study of 44,000 Americans found a single use of psilocybin reduces the risk of opiate addiction by 40%, these measures are a critical education tool. These medicines saved our lives,” wrote Maine resident and Marine Corp Veteran Michael Botelho on behalf of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine at the invitation of Decriminalize Maine.
Organizers see this as a critical stepping stone to prevent the corporatization of psychedelics. “The Super PAC trying to reverse our local work in Massachusetts told us that Maine is the next target. It plans to drop tens of millions of dollars to force through laws that limit access and profit off of people in need if we don’t take a stand through our cities,” remarked James Davis, the founder of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and a local organizer for the Portland effort.
In terms of grassroots organizing, the Northeast has now taken a narrow lead over the West Coast to have the most cities implement measures, and local organizers will continue to draw inspiration from each other’s cross state work. “You all are definitely leading the way on this issue,” Aaron Parker, an organizer with Decriminalize Maine shared speaking to the multi-state coalition effort. “Thanks for your support!””
*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 the Florida State University College of Law. Psychedelic Week is an independent project unaffiliated with these programs and institutions.
Mason Marks, MD, JD is the Florida Bar Health Law Section Professor at the Florida State University College of Law. He is the 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.