The Harvard Crimson – Editorial: Psyched About Psychedelic Decriminalization

Thanks to the Cambridge City Council, Feb. 3 was a good day for those of us who like mushrooms – the kind that you won’t find at your local grocery store, that is. In a mind-bending 8-1 vote, the Council passed legislation seeking to help decriminalize the use, possession, and distribution of entheogenic plants. The measure asks specifically for a cease in the prosecution of all cases involving entheogens in Middlesex County, and it directs city officials to treat arrests on such charges with the lowest law enforcement priority.

This intoxicating step towards decriminalization, in all earnestness, is a move that we wholeheartedly support. Amongst our nation’s most disgraceful injustices is our unmatched rate of incarceration. With dozens of states imprisoning more individuals than entire countries, the need to implement swift, sweeping reforms — to pacify this raging war — is both burning and imperative.

Through its latest act of decriminalization, the Cambridge City Council has begun to answer to such pressing calls. Our nation’s sickening war on drugs is a chief contributor to our grossly inflated incarceration rates. The national paradigm of imprisoning individuals – predominantly those within marginalized communities – for minor drug offenses is both pervasive and perverse. It’s grounded in racialized stereotypes, and cemented by unsavory misconceptions about drug use and misuse. Indeed, even though countless studies have shattered the myth that imprisonment can help solve our country’s substance use problems, this unrelenting piece of fiction has still managed to prevail. But refreshingly, the Council’s recent ruling – which presents a critical move towards treating drug abuse as a health issue, rather than a criminal one – vows to help combat this toxic narrative.

Beyond that, the decriminalization of entheogens will also work to promote essential strides in the healthcare arena. Entheogens like psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms, or shrooms) have been found to offer a host of potential health benefits, from reducing the debilitating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder; to offering rare forms of relief to those experiencing treatment-resistant depression; to serving as a valuable treatment tool for patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This fact – coupled with the notion that the legalization and normalization of entheogens may enable medical professionals to further investigate health benefits – imbues additional import within the Council’s already uplifting decision.

That said, we must acknowledge the implicit racism embedded within the dialogue surrounding the use of entheogens. Many have been quick to embrace the idea that entheogen misuse should be addressed through a public health lens — and rightfully so. But it’s likely no coincidence that the psychedelic community is predominantly white, and that communities of color are also largely excluded from the pursuit of psychedelic therapy and research. Throughout our nation’s judicial and legal history — particularly when it comes to the perspective through which we choose to address drug-related cases — greater empathy has consistently been granted to white people than to people of color. This troubling trend is as deep-seated as our nation’s handling of powder versus crack cocaine, and we are perturbed to see that it continues to permeate our lived reality. The Council’s legislation does call for a halt in the prosecution of all cases involving any controlled substance cases without intent to distribute, which works to achieve decriminalization for communities more broadly, but not in as concerted an effort as we believe is necessary.

Beyond that, it’s important to acknowledge that the Cambridge City Council’s order carries no legal weight against the Middlesex District Attorney’s office. To that end, we echo the Council’s call and ask the Middlesex District Attorney to listen — to swiftly acknowledge and pursue Cambridge City Council’s recommendations and to serve the people they seek to represent.

The potential that the Council’s decision holds is tremendous – ultimately, we not only hope to see it pursued at the district level, but we also hope that other counties and states may begin to follow Cambridge’s lead.

We are, indeed, psyched to see Cambridge taking these small yet weighty steps towards pursuing entheogen decriminalization, helping to battle our incarceration endemic, and even working to secure vital medical advancement. This will be the beginning of a long and unmapped trip – but ultimately, one that every single one of us (mushroom lover or not) will decisively benefit from.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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