Amherst advocates want psychedelic plants decriminalized

  • A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a pop-up cannabis market in Los Angeles, May 6, 2019. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/9/2022 8:03:44 PM
Modified: 5/9/2022 8:02:04 PM

AMHERST — Plant medicine treatment helped University of Massachusetts student Adam Finke overcome the depression he battled in high school.

“My experience on psychedelic mushrooms and on other plant-based medicines has changed the trajectory of my life like no other medicine has,” Finke told the Amherst Town Council at its May 2 meeting.

Finke is among the local advocates working with councilors to craft a resolution stating that what advocates refer to as plant medicines are not harmful or addictive drugs, that arrests and other punishments for possession are a poor use of resources, and that law enforcement should deprioritize arrests and the state should decriminalize their possession.

Plant-based intoxicants include psilocybin, certain cacti, ayahuasca and ibogaine.

“A Resolution Protecting Adult Access to Plant Medicines & Prioritizing Public Health Responses to Controlled Substance Possession” will come before the Town Council later this month for a vote, with advocates citing research showing that entheogenic, or psychoactive, plants and fungi can be effective treatments for drug and alcohol addiction.

The resolution states that there has been an increase in heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts, and a rise in depression, during the pandemic that can be addressed through these plants and fungi.

The council’s Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee recently voted to recommend the resolution sponsored by District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, District 4 Councilors Anika Lopes and Pam Rooney and District 1 Councilor Michele Miller.

Bay Staters for Natural Medicine and the Multidisciplinary Psychedelic Club at UMass, to which Finke belongs, are the community sponsors.

Adam Klem, another member of the UMass group, said Northampton, Easthampton, Somerville and Cambridge have already passed similar resolutions.

“Amherst would certainly be leading the way with a compassionate policy that helps people who are struggling with addiction and depression,” Klem said.

Klem said these resolutions could also influence state policy, with a push on in the next year to have the Legislature legalize the substances.

James Davis, a lead volunteer and legislative organizer for the Bay Staters group, told the Governance, Organization and Legislation Committee that getting access to this medicine safely is important because of how it changes lives.

The language of the resolution states that “no town of Amherst department, agency, board, commission, officer, or employee of the town should use any town, state, or federal funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of any controlled substance by adults, except use of endangered plants and animal-derived controlled substances.”

In addition, it would make “the investigation and arrest of persons for planting, producing, purchasing, transporting, distributing, and/or engaging in ceremonial practices with entheogenic plants… amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the town of Amherst.”

The resolution cites the criminalization of possession and use of entheogenic plants and fungi since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1971, even though they have been shown to be beneficial for treating substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent traumatic stress environment, depression, end-of-life anxiety and other ailments.

It states that “the use of entheogenic plants such as psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and San Pedro cacti have been shown to be beneficial for treating these ailments via scientific and clinical studies and within continuing indigenous practices that catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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