After Legal Pot, Are We Ready to Decriminalize Psychedelics?

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Image by Dan Fitzgerald via Flickr

Now that marijuana has been legally accepted for medical use in much of the U.S., it may be worth considering the decriminalization of psychedelic substances for similar reasons, according to a paper in the Lewis & Clark Law Review.

“Psychedelics are now being shown [as] viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals,” wrote Dustin Marlan, assistant law professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law.

Marlan recommends posing a referendum question at the state level in the same way as state voters were asked to consider decriminalizing medical marijuana.

Decriminalizing psychedelics could represent a “potential major shift in the War on Drugs,” he added in his paper, entitled “Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice.”

In May, 2019, Denver became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”), and Marlan predicted that other cities and states would follow suit with referenda.

Marlan cited several studies purporting to show the medical value of psychedelics. One study, according to Marlan, concluded that, “[s]ingle moderate-dose psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy produced rapid, robust, and sustained clinical benefits in terms of reduction of anxiety and depression in patients with life-threatening cancer. . . . leading to immediate antidepressant and anxiolytic effects with enduring clinical benefits.”

An additional study, Psychedelic Medicine for Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders, produced by Mason Marks, an affiliated fellow at Yale Law School, argued physicians should rethink their biases against psychedelics, and separate fact from fiction.

According to Marks, “Legal measures [such as state law decriminalization] that would encourage the medical use of psychedelics are justified, based on the relative ineffectiveness of traditional psychiatric drugs in treating mental illness.”

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Lophophora Williamsii (peyote) by Armen Tsirunyan via Flickr

Moreover, experiences generated by psychedelics are also “found to enhance the well-being of individuals without health problems,” Marlan argued.

“Focusing only on medical exemptions to prohibition could obscure the fact that healthy individuals can also benefit from the use of psychedelics, and that a legal right to do so could exist.”

However, Marlan wrote, “It is worth clarifying that, due to the psychological dangers involved, use of psychedelics outside of the therapeutic context should not necessarily be endorsed or encouraged by law or society.”

Marlan laid out several possible strategies for the decriminalization of psychedelics:

      • Work within existing regulatory guidelines to get FDA approval;
      • Remove some psychedelics from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act so that research becomes less expensive and burdensome;
      • Establish state-governed systems for regulating psychedelics.

Marlan then concluded that policymakers must consider the medical value of these mind-altering drugs, as well as its implications for religious freedom and social justice.

The full research paper can be accessed here.

Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer at The Crime Report.

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