Vermont Lawmakers File Bills To Legalize Psychedelics, Decriminalize Drug Possession

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Heady Vermont Staff 16 Mar 2023

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers in Vermont have introduced several bills which aim to make broad reforms to the state’s drug laws, including legalizing psychedelics and decriminalizing personal amounts of all drugs.

The four separate pieces of legislation, first highlighted by the website Psychedelic Spotlight, would “decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, expand harm reduction services, remove criminal penalties for using and selling psilocybin and decriminalize certain psychedelic plants and fungi.”

H.423 & S.119: Decriminalize Simple Possession of All Drugs

According to Psychedelic Spotlight, nearly a third of 150-person Vermont’s House of Representatives is co-sponsoring H.423, an all-drug decriminalization legislation effort led by Reps. Logan Nicoll (D) and Taylor Small (P/D). The measure, which has a companion bill in the Vermont state Senate, would decriminalize simple possession all drugs.

The bill would replace Vermont’s current criminal charges for small-scale possession with a $50 fine and a screening for substance use disorder, while any amounts below personal use thresholds could also be fined.

The text of the bill reads: “This bill proposes to change the penalties for possession of a personal use supply of drugs from a misdemeanor or low-level felony to a civil offense subject to a $50.00 penalty. A person cited for such an offense may avoid paying the penalty by agreeing to participate in a screening for substance use disorder treatment and related services. The bill would also establish the Drug Use Standards Advisory Board for the purpose of determining the benchmark personal use dosage and the benchmark personal use supply for regulated drugs with a goal of preventing and reducing the criminalization of personal drug use. Individuals previously arrested for or convicted of possession of a regulated drug in an amount under the benchmark personal use supply amount would also be eligible for immediate sealing of criminal history records. Additionally, to prevent overdose, the bill would also authorize the operation of drug-checking programs to allow individuals to obtain analysis of a regulated drug previously obtained by an individual for purposes of determining the chemical composition of the substance and identifying chemical contaminants. The bill would establish a pilot project to support the development and operation of such programs.”

Sen. Vyhovsky (P/D) has joined forces with ten other senators on the S.119 companion bill.

Under the current proposal, possessing small quantities of drugs would be allowed and criminal records associated with less than these new personal use amounts would be sealed.

In addition to this, Vermont would launch a pilot program to test psychedelic drugs for their chemical composition as well as any contaminants which might be present in them.

Backed by Decriminalize Vermont and Dave Silberman, high bailiff of Addison County, H.423 stands to benefit Vermont’s citizens in many ways. Despite “serious” obstacles standing between success and failure for the measure, supporters are pledging ongoing support for ending what Silberman referred to as Vermont’s “criminal drug war.”

Two other bills, one filed in the House and the other in the Senate, specifically reform psychedelics:

H.439 & S.114: Decriminalize psychedelics

H.439, sponsored by Rep. Brian Cina (P/D), would completely decriminalize psilocybin, mescaline and peyote in Vermont by removing them from Vermont’s definition of hallucinogenic drugs.

Sponsored by a handful of House members, H.439 would “decriminalize some chemical compounds found in plants and fungi that are commonly used for medicinal, spiritual, religious, or entheogenic purposes.”

S.114, introduced in the state Senate, would go even further. That measure would remove “criminal penalties for possessing, dispensing, or selling psilocybin,” while also establishing the Psychedelic Therapy Advisory Working Group.

The group would “examine the use of psychedelics to improve physical and mental health and to make recommendations regarding the establishment of a State program similar to Connecticut, Colorado, or Oregon to permit health care providers to administer psychedelics in a therapeutic setting,” according to the text of the legislation.

S.114 ,the other proposed bill by Sen. Martine Gulick (D) would remove only psilocybin mushrooms from Vermont’s drug classification, but it would also take another step to create a working group dedicated to studying the potential physical and mental health benefits of these substances.

The specific psilocybin bill has been assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for deliberation, while all other related bills have been referred to their respective chamber’s judiciary committees.

Outlook for Vermont drug reform: Will it pass?

Despite broad voter support for moving away from the criminalization of drug use in favor of treating the matter as a public health concern, Governor Phil Scott has typically opposed loosening restrictions on psychedelics and other drugs.

Last year Scott vetoed two related drug-reform bills, one that would have set up a working group around safe-consumption and overdose prevention sites and another that would have begun setting personal-use amounts of drugs. The latter proposal would also have removed the state’s sentencing distinction between crack and powder cocaine, a difference critics say disproportionately punishes people of color.

With Ballot Measure 110’s passage, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize non-commercial possession of drugs in November 2020. In January of this year, the state also became the first in the nation to legalize the adult use of psilocybin. Meanwhile, in bordering Massachusetts, state legislators filed two bills in their State House to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other entheogenic plants early this year.

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