Connecticut Lawmakers Consider Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill In Joint Committee Hearing

Connecticut Lawmakers Consider Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill In Joint Committee Hearing

Connecticut lawmakers took up a bill in committee on Wednesday that would decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin, despite the governor’s office recently indicating that it has concerns about the psychedelics reform.

The legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee considered the proposal, which would make possession of up to one-half an ounce of psilocybin punishable by a $150 fine, without the threat of jail time.

A second or subsequent violation would carry a fine of at least $200 but not more than $500. A person who pleads guilty or no contest on two separate occasions would be referred to a drug education program.

Police would be required to seize and destroy any amount of the psychedelic they find under the measure, HB 5297. Possession of more than a half-ounce of psilocybin would be considered a Class A misdemeanor.

Jess Zaccagnino, policy counsel for the ACLU of Connecticut, told the committee that the organization “opposes criminal prohibition of drugs, including psilocybin.”

“Not only is prohibition a proven failure as a drug control strategy, but it subjects otherwise law-abiding citizens to arrest, prosecution, and incarceration for what they do in private,” she said. “In trying to enforce the War on Drugs, the government violates the fundamental rights of privacy and personal autonomy guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Last Prisoner Project (LPP) Executive Director Sarah Gersten told lawmakers that it is “imperative that we eliminate the related criminal penalties and provide retroactive relief for those who have suffered the detrimental consequences of our nation’s failed drug war.”

While LPP “strongly supports” the measure, she said, it is also urging the legislature to add provisions to “ensure that individuals with criminal records for offenses this bill seeks to decriminalize are eligible for record clearance under the same program for cannabis erasure.”

Rep. Tracy Marra (R) testified in opposition to the legislation, saying that Connecticut “lacks the resources to assess and regulate psilocybin effectively,” and that such regulations would be better handled by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“By letting regulatory processes run their course, we can ensure that if deemed safe and efficacious, psilocybin could offer promising outcomes under controlled measures,” she said. “Premature decriminalization may inadvertently convey to our citizens that psilocybin is safe for casual use, which is misleading based on current knowledge.”

The state’s Judicial Branch said it takes “no stance on the policies furthered by the bill” but is asking lawmakers to clarify certain provisions, including on referral to drug education programs for people repeatedly caught with psilocybin.

Victor Constanza, founder of Connecticut for Accessible Psychedelic Medicine, testified at Wednesday’s hearing, describing his experience managing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol use disorder and borderline personality disorder with psilocybin.

He also argued that the legislation should additionally decriminalize the home cultivation of psilocybin, noting that the spores of the mushrooms are federally legal according to a recent Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) memo.

An earlier version of the psilocybin decriminalization bill passed the House last year but did not advance in the Senate.

Lawmakers and activists held an informational forum in January to discuss the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin and potential pathways to allow for regulated access.

Meanwhile, as the legislation is being considered, the office of Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has signaled that it may face a major barrier to enactment.

“The governor has concerns about broad decriminalization of mushrooms,” spokesperson David Bednarz said in January, noting that at the time it was “a bit too early to speculate” because a 2024 bill had not yet been filed yet.

As the prior version to decriminalize possession of psilocybin advanced last year, Lamont also reportedly threatened to veto it, despite having championed and signed into law legislation to legalize cannabis in 2021.

Lamont signed a large-scale budget bill in 2022 that includes provisions to set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment using substances like MDMA and psilocybin.

Prior to that, he also signed separate legislation in 2021 that required the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to create a task force to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

But broad decriminalization of so-called “magic mushrooms,” apparently, may be a bridge too far from his perspective.

Separately, a Connecticut lawmaker also introduced different legislation last session that would have appropriated an unspecified amount of state funds to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services for the current fiscal year to establish a “psychedelic-assisted therapy pilot program.”

A growing number of states are pursuing psychedelics reform legislation this session, with a focus on research and therapeutic access.

For example, on Tuesday a Missouri House committee unanimously approved a bill to legalize the medical use of psilocybin by military veterans and fund studies exploring the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.

A Vermont legislative panel continued its consideration last week of a bill that would legalize psilocybin in the state and establish a work group on how to further regulate psychedelics for therapeutic use.

Also last week, the Arizona Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would legalize psilocybin service centers where people could receive the psychedelic in a medically supervised setting.

The governor of New Mexico recently endorsed a newly enacted resolution requesting that state officials research the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and explore the creation of a regulatory framework to provide access to the psychedelic.

An Illinois senator recently introduced a bill to legalize psilocybin and allow regulated access at service centers in the state where adults could use the psychedelic in a supervised setting—with plans to expand the program to include mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Alaska House and Senate committees are considering legislation that would create a task force to study how to license and regulate psychedelic-assisted therapy in anticipation of eventual federal legalization of substances like MDMA and psilocybin.

Lawmakers in Hawaii are also continuing to advance a bill that would provide some legal protections to patients engaging in psilocybin-assisted therapy with a medical professional’s approval.

New York lawmakers also said that a bill to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy in that state has a “real chance” of passing this year.

An Indiana House committee, meanwhile, approved a Republican-led bill that would fund clinical research trials into psilocybin that has already cleared the full Senate.

Bipartisan California lawmakers also recently introduced a bill to legalize psychedelic service centers where adults 21 and older could access psilocybin, MDMA, mescaline and DMT in a supervised environment with trained facilitators.

A Nevada joint legislative committee held a hearing with expert and public testimony on the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin in January. Law enforcement representatives also shared their concerns around legalization—but there was notable acknowledgement that some reforms should be enacted, including possible rescheduling.

The governor of Massachusetts recently promoted the testimony of activists who spoke in favor of her veterans-focused bill that would, in part, create a psychedelics work group to study the therapeutic potential of substances such as psilocybin.

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