Provincetown decriminalizes psychedelics. Asks Mass lawmakers to replace 2024 ballot initiative
Provincetown Select Board deprioritizes enforcement of psychedelics-related criminal penalties and asks Massachusetts legislature to replace a ballot initiative proposed by the New Approach PAC
On Monday, Provincetown became the seventh Massachusetts city to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi.
According to a press release sent to Psychedelic Week by Bay Staters for Natural Medicine (Bay Staters), “Provincetown is a traditionally Portuguese community where LGBTQ people from around the world visit in search of community and healing. Now the select board of the town has opened up a new opportunity for the winter season when tourism wanes: psilocybin mushrooms” (the full press release is reproduced below).
Massachusetts leads the nation with a record number of cities where local lawmakers have deprioritized the enforcement of criminal penalties associated with psychedelics. Salem, Massachusetts decriminalized psychedelics in May, on the heels of Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, Easthampton, and Amherst.
Bay Staters is a community organization that educates people about psychedelic plants and harm reduction. Working with a regional network of groups, including New England Veterans for Plant Medicine and Parents for Plant Medicine, Bay Staters has played a central role in making Massachusetts a bastion of psychedelic decriminalization. In October, Bay Staters partnered with Decriminalize Maine to make Portland the first city in Maine to decriminalize psychedelics.
Bay Staters has worked in New England for years. In 2021, it helped make Somerville the first Massachusetts city to decriminalize. However, this year, the state has become a psychedelic policy battleground. A Washington, DC-based political action committee, the New Approach PAC, clashed with local communities by introducing two psychedelic ballot initiatives in Massachusetts for 2024.
Both initiatives would have created a heavily-regulated program for the supported adult use of five psychedelic substances. Facing public pressure, New Approach recently committed to supporting only Version A, which would allow for limited home cultivation of psychedelic plants and fungi (Version B prohibited home cultivation).
Bay Staters and its New England partners worry about New Approach’s lack of consultation with Massachusetts communities, that the PAC is distracting from locally-developed legislation, and that New Approach will create an expensive psychedelic program that excludes locals while costing taxpayers, clients, and the state more than anticipated.
The PAC funded psychedelic ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado, where local communities lodged similar complaints. In Oregon, the Psilocybin Services Act cost taxpayers more than New Approach promised. In 2020, its Oregon campaign told voters the program would become self-sufficient by 2023. However, state regulators overseeing it ran out of money this year, costing taxpayers an extra $3.1 million.
Oregon’s psilocybin program is expensive for individual clients, placing it out of reach for many in the state. A single dose of psilocybin can cost $1,500 - $3,500, which includes an intake session and monitoring by state-licensed facilitators.
The resolution adopted by Provincetown’s Select Board is Bay Staters’ latest collaboration. In addition to deprioritizing the enforcement of criminal penalties, it stands out from previous resolutions by urging state lawmakers to replace New Approach’s 2024 ballot initiative. New Approach did not respond to Psychedelic Week’s request for comment on this story or Provincetown’s call to replace its initiative.
According to Bay Staters founder James Davis, lawmakers have until January to provide a substitute bill. On Monday, Select Board member Erik Borg invited Davis to address the Board.
Davis told the Board, “it's no surprise that the Lancet, the most prestigious medical journal in the world, has found that mushrooms and related plant based psychedelics have the lowest harms of any controlled substance particularly in comparison to the alcohol and cigarettes that we can buy at just about any corner store.” He said, “we have a responsibility to educate the public about these plant medicines, their relative safety, and their relative savings for our communities and the state government as a whole.” Davis added, “law enforcement has tended to agree,” referencing Salem Police Chief Lucas Miller, who endorsed Salem’s successful resolution.
He described proposed substitute bills to replace New Approach’s initiative. “We have two primary pieces of legislation before state lawmakers right now,” Davis said. “One would simply decriminalize growing and sharing non-commercially. That’s sponsored by Senator Jalen (D) and Rep. Sabadosa (D). We also have a bill, H.3605, sponsored by a former police officer and the self-proclaimed most conservative representative in the state, Rep. Boldyga (R), that would create a really simple licensing pathway for someone like Patricia to operate above ground.”
According to Davis, this licensing pathway would require people to “undergo a CORI background check” and complete a “very small amount of accredited training that would be approved by the Department of Health.” Applicants would pay $155 annually, “the same way that licensed counselors do.”
Davis concluded that “by using that simple model, we can ensure that this activity is above ground.” He looked to existing state-regulated programs for justification. “The reason why this is incredibly important is we can learn from the lessons of both Oregon and Colorado, where psilocybin was legalized, but in a way that drove all of that activity underground.”
“In Oregon, it costs tens of thousands of dollars in order to operate as a facilitator every year,” said Davis. Under rules adopted by the Oregon Health Authority last December, psilocybin service centers must pay an annual license fee of $10,000, and psilocybin facilitators pay $2,000 a year. In response to these costs, which are passed on to consumers, many people in Oregon are opting for underground psychedelic sessions.
“People are simply growing, gathering and sharing their own and then finding a guide that they trust to help them with the experience,” said Davis. If that practice was moved above ground, as Bay Staters proposes, “that means that people are going to be paying their taxes, there's more accountability, and most importantly, people who want to try plant medicine will have an alternative way with someone they can trust and someone they know is going to help them have the best experience possible.”
Davis discussed the advisory board that would be installed if voters approve New Approach’s initiative next year. This board, appointed by the Governor, would advise a newly formed psychedelic agency on rules for the state-regulated program. In Oregon and Colorado, New Approach and its funders appear to have influenced board member selection.
Davis told Provincetown’s lawmakers, “I believe that you all, as five elected officials, are better at making these decisions than five unelected officials that will be appointed by a PAC if we're not able to change the ballot measure the voters are currently being tricked into voting on in November 2024.” Davis was referencing reports that canvassers paid by New Approach to collect signatures, necessary to place its initiative on the ballot, were misinforming voters about the proposal.
Two Provincetown Select Board members raised concerns about Bay Staters’ proposal. Leslie Sandberg said she supported the supported use of psychedelics, stating “I know how wonderful they are.” But she prefers use to occur under medical supervision.
Davis responded that medical doctors support Bay Staters’ resolution and the proposal would not preclude medical research or the development of psychedelic therapies. He said the model advanced by New Approach would be unaffordable, even to wealthy individuals. Davis argued that bad outcomes would be reduced if decriminalization occurred, which would increase open dialogue and promote education.
Borg agreed with Davis. “I completely understand Leslie's line of questioning,” said Borg. “But one thing we have to keep in mind is that mushrooms currently exist in Provincetown. They currently exist in the state of Massachusetts, people are doing them recreationally. And I don't think whatever happens here tonight, will persuade anyone to, to stop doing them recreationally or to start doing them recreationally. Psilocybin mushrooms are already here in Provincetown.”
Select Board member Austin Miller asked whether the resolution might exceed the Board’s authority. Davis said that “in other townships where we've worked, we acknowledge that this is a resolution. And so based on that text of the resolution, it's already understood to be an ask of the police department and city employees,” rather than a demand. He added, “I've had a version of this discussion, many times, and we often maintain, because it's a resolution that those changes are not as necessary for what it's worth.”
Board member John Golden said, “to me, this is not gonna change it for the town of Provincetown. This is to make the state legislature look at what we're doing. He added, “I just think that Provincetown has always sort of been at the forefront of whatever and, you know, we just got to move forward . . . Provincetown, this is what we do.”
After replacing one word of Bay Staters’ proposal to address Miller’s concern regarding the Board’s authority, members approved the resolution in a three-to-one vote, with Miller voting against the proposal and Sandberg abstaining.
Provincetown residents praised the Select Board’s decision, citing benefits related to public health, the economy, and social equity. “Our town is now leading the way for affordable access to plant medicine and set an example for our state,” said Anna May Meade, a local author and member of the Visitor’s Services Board who helped lead the effort. “The PAC-funded ballot measure should be changed to reflect what communities across the state have called for.”
Bay Staters’ full press release is reproduced below:
Provincetown Votes to End Arrests for Natural Psychedelics, Calls for State Lawmakers to Rewrite the Ballot Question
Provincetown is a traditionally Portuguese community where LGBTQ people from around the world visit in search of community and healing. Now the select board of the town has opened up a new opportunity for the winter season when tourism wanes: psilocybin mushrooms.
Categorized as a “breakthrough therapy” for depression by the FDA, psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelic plants will now be the lowest priority for law enforcement in the community by order of the select board. Specifically “investigation and arrest of adults for planting, cultivating” and sharing psychedelic plants and fungi will not be permitted. The measure also calls for town employees to treat the possession of all controlled substances as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.
The organization behind this measure and the decriminalization of six other communities statewide, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, emphasized psilocybin’s benefits for alleviating opioid addiction and helping traumatized veterans in its presentation for the select board. Its local volunteers also emphasized the economic and tax benefits. Several advocates plan to open retreat centers where people can have guided experiences with psilocybin and enjoy community ceremonies to have spiritual experiences in a group environment.
“This vote signals Board support of Provincetown to not only stand strong as a community known for its arts, inclusion and celebration but now also as a destination for healing, which could be a boon to our off-season economy,“ says Steven Azar, resident and small business owner in Provincetown. “Decriminalization of plant medicine will result in more public education on the safe use of plant medicine and its therapeutic benefits…,” said Patricia van Dijkhuizen, a resident of Provincetown, certified psychedelic practitioner, and LCSW.
An economic analysis by advocates found that Provincetown could generate an additional $300,000 in revenue and $13.8 million in economic activity every year. In late fall and winter, the model predicts that thousands of additional people each year will visit the town in the off-season to stay at local hotels, visit community stores, and enjoy the town’s cuisine.
“Our town is now leading the way for affordable access to plant medicine and set an example for our state. The PAC-funded ballot measure should be changed to reflect what communities across the state have called for,” said Anna May Meade, a local author and member of the Visitor’s Services Board who helped lead the effort.
The measure also explicitly calls for state lawmakers to change the ballot question that may be presented to Massachusetts voters next fall. Funded by a secretive entity Boston Globe recently described as “a deep-pocketed, out-of-state PAC,” the ballot question has come under fire for copying the model it created in Oregon where treatments with psilocybin mushrooms often cost thousands of dollars.
“Local communities are asking their elected officials, like Senator Cyr, to substitute the ballot question so that future psychedelic services can be affordable. Even upper middle class families will be excluded from this life-changing care if we create another unelected control commission instead of legislating,” said James Davis, the founder of Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and author of the measures.
Advocates point out that a state representative and former police officer, Representative Boldyga, has filed legislation to legalize psychedelics by creating a simple process by which people can get training and licensing to be guides. For many, this calls into question the motives of the PAC that filed the ballot question and underscores the necessity of substituting so voters are not misled.
“The PAC swooped in uninvited and hired an army of canvassers to lie to voters. If our state lawmakers lack the backbone to substitute the ballot question, then they will be letting veterans like me die and forfeiting our democracy to dark money,” 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.
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*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 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.