Vermont lawmakers plan to introduce at least two bills to decriminalize drug possession during the legislative session, one of which is expected early next week.

State Representative Brian Zina (P/D) said in an interview that legislation he plans to propose Tuesday would eliminate penalties around a number of herbal and fungal psychedelics, including psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine and DMT.

Humans have a close relationship with plants and fungi that goes back to the dawn of human existence, Qina said in an interview. But the legacy of colonization has left us with the criminalization of this medicine, spiritual, religious, entheogenic.

Another bill currently pending in Vermont would decriminalize small amounts of all drugs, although details of the legislation have not yet been released. During the press conference, MP Selena Colburn (P/D) stated that a bill to decriminalize all drugs is being prepared and will be introduced during this session.

We’re still determining the model, but it seems to be a possible model for the work that took place in Oregon, she said, referring to a drug decriminalization measure that Oregon voters approved in November.

On Thursday, Mr Colburn did not immediately respond to an email request for further information.

Sarah George, district attorney in Chittenden County, said at Wednesday’s demonstration that drugs are not illegal because they are dangerous, but they are certainly more dangerous because they are illegal.

Everything is safer when everything is legalized and regulated, Mr. George said, and legal drugs are safer than illegal drugs.

Other bills still pending concern the decriminalization of buprenorphine, which is often used to treat opiate-related conditions, and the regulation of the sale of kratom, a popular but controversial alternative to herbal medicines and painkillers.

In general, many of us try to decriminalize human behavior that is somehow stigmatized and condemned by others, but the main effect is on the individual, Chyna said. It is in the case of substance use that the greatest health and social impacts on a person are expected to occur.

A proposal to deregulate entheogenic herbs was presented this week in video links with the Decriminalize Nature group, which has helped spearhead efforts to decriminalize certain drugs in other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C.

During the event, the member showed his bill and explained to the audience how he would change the current law.

What we’re doing now in the section that defines hallucinogenic drugs, that includes peyote and psilocybin and all those other drugs you see, Chyna explained. What we do is we turn them off, we basically say they don’t count.

The full list of drugs that would be taken off the list of controlled drugs – effectively removing them from the state’s list of controlled substances – includes peyote, ayahuasca, cacti containing mescaline, psilocybin, ibogaine, DMT and all herbs containing these substances.

I know other people have different ideas about how we should do it, China said by phone. That’s one of the ways we try to do it. This is part of a multi-pronged strategy to defenalize all drugs and take many drugs out of the criminal justice system.

On Thursday, Chyna said he expects seven co-sponsors for the bill when it is first introduced, a sign of growing support for the policy change. A similar bill introduced by Cina in the previous session, H.878, received three other sponsors and was never considered in committee.

There are some minor changes from last year’s proposal, especially regarding the medicines that would be deregulated. Last year’s bill covered psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and kratom. This year’s bill removes kratom and adds ibogaine, DMT and certain plants and fungi containing these compounds to the list of deregulated plants and substances.

To maximize decriminalization, we involve the substance and the plant, China said.

He said the new bill will likely begin to make its way through the House Judiciary Committee, although that won’t be known for sure until it is filed and passed.

As for kratom, Sina said lawmakers will address this drug, which is already widely used across the country, through a separate law to protect kratom consumers, which would legalize and regulate its sale. This bill establishes a minimum age for the purchase of kratom and includes rules to ensure the purity and dosage of the product.

A bill to decriminalize natural psychedelics goes the other way by simply removing the substances and plants that produce them from state drug laws. As Cina describes it, the bill would instead treat hallucinogenic plants as non-psychoactive fungi and cacti.

The best way to explain it, he told the Decriminalize Nature audience, is that we just treat them like other plants and fungi.

Some officials have already spoken out against the decriminalization of drugs other than marijuana and feel that is going too far.

Philosophically, I’m going to fight to try to understand how decriminalizing heroin would improve public safety or public health, Attorney General T.J. Donovan said in a podcast aired this week by VTDigger.

When asked if he would support the decriminalization of all drugs, Mr. Donovan replied: I think that’s what we did: We have marijuana, we have alcohol.

Donovan acknowledged, however, that he and others will pursue this idea if they receive evidence that drug reform measures can reduce harm. Some people use drugs, we know that, he says. How can we also limit the damage to the community?

Donovan stated that he supports certain drug policy reform strategies, such as needle exchange programs, and that he is open to the idea of safe injection sites.

We need to be guided by science, we need to be guided by data, and we shouldn’t be afraid to have these difficult conversations along the way, he said.

The attorney general has already reconsidered his position on marijuana. Initially, she favored the simple decriminalization of drugs, but eventually opted for legalization as a means of regulating security and eliminating the illegal market. You can’t tell people in Vermont that you can legally own something and then be completely silent about how they got it, he said.

The state legalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis in the home in 2018 and added a component of legal and regulated sales last year.

The Vermont Democratic Party, for its part, signaled late last year that it agrees with broader political changes. At a virtual meeting in September, the party adopted a platform calling, among other things, for an approach to drug possession and abuse motivated solely by the principles of public health and harm reduction, rather than punishing unwanted private behavior and avoiding the criminal justice system altogether.

Dave Silberman, the pro bono lawyer and reform advocate who led the development of the criminal justice agenda, said at the time that our party fully recognizes that the war on drugs has done absolutely nothing to reduce problematic drug use and in fact fuels the racial bias we see in policing today, all without contributing to public safety.

In other parts of the country, lawmakers are considering similar reforms to abolish or repeal penalties for possession of many drugs.

A Republican lawmaker in Iowa introduced a bill earlier this month to remove psilocybin from the list of controlled substances, while another would allow seriously ill patients to use psychedelic mushrooms, LSD, MMT and other drugs.

Last week, a Texas lawmaker filed a bill that would require the state to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine in treating certain mental illnesses.

Lawmakers in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Washington State and Virginia are also considering bills on psychedelics and drug policy reform for the 2021 session.

California Senator Scott Wiener (D) introduced a bill Thursday to legalize the possession and social sharing of a number of drugs, including psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, ketamine, mescaline, ibogaine, DMT and MDMA. It also provides for the annulment of previous convictions for possession or use. The proposal calls for the state to establish a working group to study possible future regulatory regimes for psychedelics and submit a report in 2024.

This bill is part of a larger effort to end the war on drugs, which has disproportionately affected disadvantaged communities of color, said Assemblyman Evan Lowe (D), one of the bill’s co-authors. Our bill helps put us on the path to decriminalizing drug addiction, so we can focus on treating drug addiction instead of paying for jail cells and ignoring the larger problem.

As Sina said this week in Vermont: We don’t need any more cops. We need to take better care of each other.

Marijuana regulators set policy priorities as Congress moves toward legalization

Photo cells courtesy of Carlosemaskip and Apollo

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