Portland, Maine, to Decriminalize Psychedelic Plants and Fungi

    The City Council in Portland, Maine, has voted to deprioritize the local enforcement of laws against psychedelic plants and fungi, adopting a resolution on October 2 that emphasizes treating the use and possession of all controlled substances as a public health matter.

    The body voted 6–3 in favor of the resolution, which says that the arrest and prosecution of people for possession, use, cultivation for personal use or sharing without compensation “shall be among the lowest law enforcement priority of the City of Portland.”

    “The opinion that we’re expressing here,” Councilor Anna Trevorrow said at the meeting, “is that use of psychedelic plants and fungi should be deprioritized by our criminal justice system in order to facilitate access to people who need this for a public health benefit.”

    The resolution applies to all plants and fungi known to contain psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline (except peyote) and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Peyote is excluded “in light of its vulnerable ecological status, combined with its religious and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples,” the resolution notes.

    “The use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood primarily as an issue of public health.”

    The resolution maintains “that City of Portland departments, agencies, boards, commissions, officers or employees of the city should avoid using city funds or resources to assist in the investigation, criminal prosecution or the imposition of criminal penalties” for the covered activity, although the substances remain illegal under state law.

    The measure says that “the use and possession of all controlled substances should be understood primarily as an issue of public health.”

    “I don’t know what we’re doing if we’re not talking about harm reduction in the Health and Human Services and Public Safety Committee,” said Councilor Victoria Pelletier, who sits on the committee, at the October 2 meeting. “I don’t know what we’re doing if we’re not actually centering the work that we do around impacted parties dealing with substance use.”

    That committee passed the resolution in a 3–0 vote in late September, at which point members amended the resolution to cover home cultivation of natural entheogens for personal use and sharing without compensation. Criminal enforcement priorities will not change for selling, dispensing, possessing on school grounds or driving under the influence of the substances.

    Before the committee vote, the panel heard comments from the public on the resolution. Among speakers, support for the change was unanimous.

    “It’s important that people can consume them in safe and supportive environments. Decriminalization will make that much more likely.”

    Wendy Chapkis, a sociology professor at the University of Southern Maine and board member of Decriminalize Maine, told the body that people in Portland “are already taking plant medicines like psychedelic mushrooms.”

    “While these substances aren’t dangerous in terms of things like addiction or overdose risk, they are powerful, and it’s important that people can consume them in safe and supportive environments,” she said. “Decriminalization will make that much more likely.”

    Chapkis also emphasized in September that the policy shift would benefit “older adults facing end-of-life issues, like extreme anxiety,” whom she described as “people who should be doing these substances but aren’t.”

    “There’s really good research that shows that psychedelics can relieve some of the problems that this population is facing,” she said, “but those people most often have no idea how to access these medicines or how to use them.”

    As a resident of Portland for more than 30 years, Chapkis said she saw the measure as “another opportunity for our city to lead the way by joining the more than a dozen other cities in the United States that have already decriminalized psychedelic botanicals and have done so in a way that avoids the problems of commercialization through the grow, gather, give model.”

    According to an August email from Chapkis to the Council that was included in meeting documents, the Portland resolution was originally based on a similar psychedelics measure in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019.

    Councilor April Fournier said before the committee vote that “really the intent for moving this forward is from a medical and wellness perspective, really looking at the natural use of these different plants as they were intended to really support these populations, and being able to use, again, the medicine that makes the most sense for them on their healing journey.”

    Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization in recent years, since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019. Massachusetts has seen at least five jurisdictions pass decriminalization language: SalemSomervilleCambridgeEasthampton and Northampton. And four cities in Michigan have adopted similar measures: FerndaleDetroitAnn Arbor and Hazel Park.

    In California, Oakland and Santa Cruz have passed psychedelics decriminalization measures, and the state legislature recently passed a bill to legalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of certain psychedelics for adults 21 and older, while also taking steps to develop a regulatory model to access them for therapeutic or facilitated use. The governor will decide on that and a slew of other drugmpolicy bills by October 14.

    An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.

    According to a national poll published in March, a majority of US voters support legal access to psychedelic therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.



    Photograph by Mushroom Observer via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 3.0

    This story was originally published by Marijuana Moment, which tracks the politics and policy of cannabis and drugs. Follow Marijuana Moment on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for its newsletter.

    • Ben is a writer and editor covering cannabis since 2011, including as a senior news editor for Leafly. He is currently senior editor at Marijuana Moment. He lives in Seattle.

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