The St. Louis lawmaker behind a recently enacted marijuana decriminalization bill says he’s aware that there’s growing talk about pushing broader reform by loosening laws around psychedelics and other drugs—but he’s concerned that the federal government may intervene if the city pushes the envelope too far.
Alderman Bret Narayan (D)—whose cannabis legislation to end the local criminalization of adults over cannabis possession and cultivation was signed into law by Mayor Tishaura Jones (D) last week—took a question about psychedelics policy from Marijuana Moment during an interview on St. Louis Public Radio on Monday.
Asked whether he’d consider sponsoring a proposal to locally deprioritize laws around substances like psilocybin and ibogaine, Narayan said that “some of my colleagues have brought that up,” but he thinks “that’s a much tougher a hill to climb” than the recently enacted cannabis reform.
Alderman Narayan, now that you’ve got this significant marijuana reform in place, are you considering pursuing changes to broader drug laws, for example in the way that other cities around the US have moved to decriminalize psychedelics? Seattle, Oakland, Denver & Detroit, for ex
— Tom Angell 🌳📰ⓥ (@tomangell) December 20, 2021
Specifically, the legislator said that there’s a difference between marijuana and psychedelics with respect to potential federal intervention. While the Justice Department has previously put out guidance generally saying that it wouldn’t be going after individuals operating in compliance with state-legal cannabis programs, the same can’t be said for psychedelics.
“I’m not sure if the [Drug Enforcement Administration] wouldn’t come in if now you can go to the store and buy psilocybin,” he said. “The feds may say, you know, that’s really cute, St. Louis Board of Aldermen, that you think you’re going to do that, but you’re not.”
While some advocates and lawmakers are working to create regulated access to certain psychedelics, there currently aren’t any commercial markets for such products anywhere in the U.S. When it comes to psychedelics, most local efforts have focused on simply decriminalizing their use, possession and personal cultivation. Such policies are now in place in cities like Denver, Detroit, Oakland and Seattle, among others.
But Narayan also said that while the public mandate to reform laws on marijuana was clear, he’s not certain that St. Louis residents would necessarily be supportive—or at least as strongly supportive—about a psychedelics policy change.
“I think that we have to look at where the people are,” he said. “I know that in the conversations that I’ve had with people regarding psilocybin reform—the people of Denver and the people of Oakland are a different set of people than the people in the city of St. Louis.” People in cities that have enacted psychedelics reform “may be there to where the legislature says, ‘yes, this is a great idea,’” he said. “The people of the city of St. Louis may also [be open to it], but it’s really hard to tell.”
What’s easy to tell, however, is that the city’s residents are supportive of ending marijuana criminalization—and that’s why Narayan introduced the reform bill that cleared the Board of Aldermen unanimously before receiving the mayor’s signature.
That law makes it so adults 21 and older can possess up to two ounces of cannabis without facing the civil penalty that was previously in place.
It also stipulates that “no resources” can be spent to punish adults for cultivating up to six flowering plants. Importantly, the measure only affects local policy and does not change Missouri state laws that continue to criminalize marijuana for non-medical use.
Supporters say the the legislation is meant to build upon the city’s earlier 2018 reform move, when lawmakers made it so the penalty for possession would be a $25 fine. The new law repeals local statute allowing for a penalty altogether.
Statewide, Missouri voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2018.
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The bill signing in St. Louis comes one year after the Kansas City, Missouri City Council voted to approve an ordinance ending all penalties for marijuana possession under the municipality’s local laws.
In that city, Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) and four local lawmakers filed the cannabis measure, which similarly repeals a provision of the Code of Ordinances stipulating that possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana carries a $25 fine and more than 35 grams is punishable by a $500 fine.
In September, the City Council also approved a measure making it so most government workers in Kansas City will no longer face pre-employment drug tests for cannabis.
Meanwhile, at least two activists groups in the state are aiming to place the question of adult-use marijuana legalization before voters in 2022. One campaign officially launched signature gathering this month.
Separately, a Republican state lawmaker is again making a push to place marijuana legalization on the ballot. Rep. Shamed Dogan (R) recently pre-filed his joint resolution to place a constitutional amendment on legalization on the 2022 ballot. He introduced a similar proposal last year, but it did not advance.
Also this month, a Missouri lawmaker pre-filed a bill to make it so police could no longer use the odor of marijuana alone as justification to conduct searches of a person’s home, vehicle or other private property.
Psychedelics reform might not come as quickly in Missouri, but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that interest in the issue among voters and lawmakers is spreading.
For example, a national advocacy group recently filed two separate psychedelics reform initiatives for Colorado’s 2022 ballot. Voters in the state voters could have the chance to weigh in on legalizing possession and personal cultivation of psychedelics, and creating a system of licensed businesses to produce psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline for supervised use at “healing centers.”
The filing comes more than two years after Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Various activists, including those involved in the 2019 campaign, have signaled interest in building upon the reform.
The Colorado initiatives seek to accomplish something similar to what California activists are actively pursuing. California advocates are in the process of collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.
Virginia activists have also launched a push to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics in the Commonwealth, and two state lawmakers recently touted the therapeutic potential of entheogenic substances like psilocybin mushrooms.
Last month, Detroit voters approved a ballot initiative to widely decriminalize psychedelics, making it the latest in a growing number of jurisdictions to enact the reform.
In October, lawmakers in a fourth Massachusetts city, Easthampton, voted in favor of a resolution urging the decriminalization of certain entheogenic substances and other drugs.
The action comes months after the neighboring Northampton City Council passed a resolution stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.
The local measures also express support for two bills introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature this year. One would remove criminal penalties for possession of all currently illicit drugs and the other would establish a task force to study entheogenic substances with the eventual goal of legalizing and regulating the them.
Separately, Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution in October to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.
A bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics. Activists in the city are also hoping to expand upon the local decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.
Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.
The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill in September that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee in September.
NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said in October that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill, and he reiterated that point in response to a question from Marijuana Moment on Thursday. The congressman is also circulating a letter to get his colleagues to demand that the Drug Enforcement Administration stop preventing terminal patients from accessing psilocybin as a right-to-try investigational drug.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.