Northampton City Council wants to decriminalize psychedelic plants 

  • Northampton City Hall, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2021 7:45:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After severe childhood trauma, Jahnava Jenkins experienced “debilitating PTSD, anxiety and depression, and also dissociative disorder,” she told the City Council at its March 18 meeting. Her cure? Psilocybin mushrooms.

“Psychedelic mushrooms saved my life,” Jenkins said. “After taking them just once, the benefits are lifelong.”

Citing the benefits of entheogenic plants and the disproportionate impact of the criminalization of drugs, the City Council took an initial vote earlier this month to pass a resolution to decriminalize them.

“A Resolution Decriminalizing Controlled Substance Possession as well as Cultivation and Distribution of Psychedelic Plants” says that “no City of Northampton department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Northampton Police Department personnel, should use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants.”

At-large member William Dwight, who co-sponsored the resolution with Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore, said, “It should be noted, this is a resolution … We don’t have the authority to direct the police department to these policies. That why the word ‘should’ is there.”

The resolution expresses support for two pieces of related state legislation, “An Act establishing a task force to study equitable access to entheogenic plants” and “An Act relative to harm reduction and racial justice.”

“This resolution is an appeal for a cultural shift,” Dwight said, adding that he hopes to see the state legislation pass.

The resolution also addresses controlled substances generally, saying the city’s policy would be “the arrest of adult persons for using or possessing controlled substances shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Northampton.”

The city is currently studying public safety, Maiore noted. “So I think it’s the ideal time actually to finally cast off the burden of drug policy, the war on drugs, that offers nothing to our health, safety or community well-being and, by design, disproportionately harms people of color, people of limited financial means, and other marginalized and targeted communities. To me this is a racial justice issue,” she said, adding that “of those in federal prison for drug-related offenses, nearly 80% are Black or Latinx.”

Northampton’s move follows similar actions elsewhere in the U.S. The state of Oregon and several cities, including Somerville and Cambridge in Massachusetts, have voted to decriminalize psilocybin.

The resolution asks the Northwestern district attorney’s office “to cease prosecution of persons involved in the use, possession, or distribution of entheogenic plants and the use or possession without the intent to distribute of any controlled substance.”

Dwight echoed Maiore, saying that drug prohibition laws in the U.S. were “predicated on racism. They were based and built and argued and debated and moved forward on racism.”

Referencing a speaker from public comment, at-large member Gina-Louise Sciarra said she “appreciated one speaker noting these are substances indigenous people have used for forever. That should be remembered and recognized.”

Entheogenic plants can help treat PTSD, depression, and substance use disorder, the resolution says. “It’s also time to get out of the way of breakthrough treatments currently made inaccessible by criminalization,” Maiore said.

There are studies showing psilocybin may reducedepression and anxiety, and the Food and Drug Administration labeled some therapies with the compound “breakthrough therapy,” a classification that helps expedite a drug’s review process when there is preliminary clinical evidence it is effective.

There is growing interest in the field. Researchers at Johns Hopkins, for example, are looking at psilocybin’s effect on opioid addiction, PTSD and Lyme disease.

Several people during public comment spoke about the health impacts.

“Some people, including myself, have found therapeutic benefit in these substances in relieving trauma and other issues, and I think more research can be done into the effectiveness of these treatments,” resident Joe Mygan said.

“I’m not generally one to get involved in politics, but I really do feel compelled to speak up about this resolution, mostly because of the many gifts I’ve received through working with these medicines,” resident Daniel Bensonoff said.

Ward 1 Councilor Michael Quinlan said he agreed with much of the resolution. But, “there was a little bit of a queasy feeling about leaving discretion to the police at this time. I’m not sure that it’s fair to the police to charge them with enforcing laws and then saying but not all of them … I think it’s unfair to the community to not know when they would be arrested if they are doing something that’s technically illegal. That said, this is also a resolution, so I understand where we stand.”

Ward 4 Councilor John Thorpe, who works as a probation officer, referenced his job and said he would be abstaining. “Even if it is a resolution, I will be abstaining,” he said.

With the exception of Thorpe, all councilors voted to pass the resolution. The City Council is scheduled to take a second and final vote on the resolution at its meeting on Thursday evening.

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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