Cambridge decriminalizes psychedelic mushrooms

Boston's municipal neighbor has joined a nationwide movement to destigmatize drugs like psilocybin. The process, though, is and will be complicated

Cambridge City Councilors voted to decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelic drugs like so-called magic mushrooms via a resolution, this week.

Passing less than a month after officials in neighboring Somerville green-lit their own decriminalization motion, this effort marks another action in a growing movement towards statewide drug policy reform.

“[This is] a step towards understanding substance use through the lens of public health and not the so-called ‘War on Drugs,’” Cambridge City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler tweeted before this vote.

Like Somerville’s actions, this move lacks the teeth of federal or even state law. 

Psychedelics, after all, remain illegal at both levels. 

Recognizing that, Sobrinho-Wheeler, his counterparts in Somerville, and a team of private advocates also working on resolutions like these are technically targeting the mechanisms of enforcing laws they see as unjust, not the laws themselves.

In both communities, police now must deprioritize arrests made on charges of psychedelics possession. 

City governments can no longer explicitly earmark funds for programs aimed at punishing use of psychedelics. 

And Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan now has a formal request to drop any cases of psychedelics possession pending before her that trace back to Cambridge or Sommerville.

“It was great to see Somerville beat us to it a couple weeks ago and set a precedent for this,” Sobrinho-Wheeler tweeted, Jan. 31. 

The US banned naturally occurring psychedelics in 1968. Then it classified such drugs as “Schedule 1” substances alongside heroin and ecstasy at the outset of the Drug War in the 1970s. That action falsely argued these plants pose a high risk for addiction while offering no medical benefits. 

Years later, aids to President Richard Nixon, who was in office as these laws took effect, have since admitted they lied. 

Their criminalization efforts were direct weapons to be used against the president’s political enemies. The government wanted justification to harass and imprison prominent Black and anti-war activists. 

“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” Nixon’s domestic-policy advisor John Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum back in 1994. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

Modern decriminalization advocates in Massachusetts and across the US recognize the Drug War era roots of these statutes they’re trying to erase.

That being said, this recent move in Cambridge has been immediately met with particular reminders to consider unique and effective ways to make reparations. 

“It’s important that restorative justice be a part of any legalization conversation and that BIPOC stakeholders be brought to the table,” advocate and local marijuana cultivation co-op co-founder Eric Schwartz tweeted, this week. “I supported this initiative in Somerville and support it in Cambridge.

Schwartz is one of many noting how Black and Latinx communities in particular have been excluded from the legal marijuana industry since Massachusetts' passed its legalization efforts in 2016. 

There’s fear a similar pattern could emerge if and when other drugs, like mushrooms, get decriminalized for medical or recreational use in Massachusetts.

“Let’s just make sure we do legalization right,” Schwartz tweeted. 

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