Are Psychedelics Legal In The US? Where Are They Decriminalized? A Deep Dive Into The Legal Status of Psilocybin, MDMA, LSD, Ketamine And More

·7 min read

This article was made possible thanks to research from Calyx Law, the Emerge Group and Psilocybin Alpha.

As psychedelics like LSD, ayahuasca and “magic mushrooms” come rushing back into the public conversation, a few simple questions come up after discussing the potential of these substances in treating a wide variety of mental health disorders:

Contents

  1. What Are Psychedelics?

  2. Are Psychedelics Legal In The U.S.?

  3. Where Are Psychedelics Allowed In The U.S.?

  4. Where Are Psychedelics Being Considered For Legalization?

Wait, What Are Psychedelics?

“Psychedelic” is a broad term that encompasses a few different substances, some of which enjoy decriminalization or “low-level law enforcement” in certain jurisdictions around the country.

Psychedelics are usually described as drugs capable of producing non-ordinary states of consciousness.

While there are hundreds of natural and synthetic substances that can fall into the general definition of “mind-altering drugs,” most people refer to some compounds in particular when speaking of psychedelics:

  • LSD, or Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Street names: acid, mellow yellow.

  • Psilocybin, a compound naturally produced by Psilocybe mushrooms. Street names: magic mushrooms, shrooms.

  • Mescaline, naturally found in the Peyote and San Pedro cacti.

  • DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, is a compound found in ayahuasca, a traditional Amazonian concoction used in shamanic rituals.

  • Ibogaine, naturally produced by the iboga plant, a shrub native to West Africa.

  • 5-MeO-DMT, a psychedelic toxin produced by the Sonoran Desert Frog and some plants. Street name: toad venom.

  • MDMA. This “empathogen” can be considered a drug of a different category from the “classic psychedelics” listed above, but it’s often grouped within this definition. Street names: ecstasy, molly.

Are Psychedelics Legal In The U.S.?

As a general rule, all of the substances listed above are considered Schedule 1 substances by the federal government and are therefore illegal to produce, sell, possess or consume without special government authorization.

Although scheduled, every one of these substances is currently under clinical research and most are expected to become approved in the coming years as psychiatric medication for specific mental health indications.

In the meantime, some U.S. jurisdictions have passed legislation reducing law enforcement of some psychedelic substances, allowing for the use and possession of small amounts of these drugs.

Exception: The Case Of Ketamine

Ketamine is a dissociative drug originally approved as an anesthetic in 1970. In recent decades, its psychedelic-like effects were discovered to produce a reduction in depression symptoms.

While ketamine is only officially approved as an anesthetic, physicians are allowed to prescribe it off-label for the treatment of depression and other mental disorders.

This has placed ketamine at the forefront of the psychedelics movement, as a prescribable drug that can be legally administered at clinics under physician supervision.

Where Are Psychedelics Allowed In The U.S.?

Using Psilocybin Alpha’s Psychedelic Legalization & Decriminalization Tracker, we compiled a list of U.S. jurisdictions where psychedelics are allowed.

Oregon

In November 2020, Oregon became the first U.S. state to eliminate criminal penalties for all illegal drugs including cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and methamphetamine, as well as every psychedelic substance like LSD, psilocybin and MDMA.

Possession of small amounts of these substances were made a Class E violation, instead of a misdemeanor. This reduces penalties to a $100 fine or the option to enlist in one of the state’s “Addiction and Recovery Centers.”

Additionally, in the same 2020 ballot Oregonians voted to launch a program for the therapeutic use of psilocybin, creating the country’s first state-licensed psilocybin-assisted therapy system.

The program, currently in development, will allow patients over the age of 21 to buy, possess and use psilocybin under the supervision of trained facilitators, while manufacture, delivery and administration of psilocybin will be allowed at supervised, licensed facilities.

California: Santa Cruz and Oakland

While the state of California still places a ban on scheduled psychedelic molecules, two cities within its borders have passed resolutions preventing the city from spending resources in imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants and fungi.

In both Santa Cruz and Oakland, personal use, possession and cultivation of plants like iboga, mescaline cacti, the ingredients in ayahuasca as well as psilocybin mushrooms are classified among the lowest law enforcement priorities. In Oakland, purchasing, transporting and distributing these natural psychedelics fall into the same category.

District of Columbia

Similar measures were passed in Washington D.C., where psychedelic plants and fungi became decriminalized in November 2020.

“Non-commercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi” are considered “lowest enforcement priorities” by the DC Metropolitan Police, banning the investigation and arrest of persons 18 years of age or older for these practices.

Colorado: Denver

Denver became the first U.S. jurisdiction to reduce penalties on psilocybin mushrooms in May 2019. Psilocybin mushrooms are among the “lowest law enforcement priority,” preventing law enforcement from using Denver city funds for criminalizing the personal use and possession of these fungi.

Michigan: Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is currently the only city in the American Midwest where cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing natural psychedelics is not criminalized.

Entheogenic plants or plant compounds, which are on the Federal Schedule 1 are a “lowest law enforcement priority,” meaning that “city funds or resources shall not be used in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution” and that the district attorney must “cease prosecution of persons involved in the use of entheogenic plants or plant-based compounds.”

Massachusetts: Somerville, Cambridge and Northampton

In January 2021, the Boston suburb of Somerville passed a legislation wherein no “city funds or resources” shall be used “to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of entheogenic plants by adults.”

Soon after, neighboring cities of Cambridge and Northampton adopted the same legislation, which states that “the investigation and arrest of adult persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing entheogenic plants shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority,” calling upon the District Attorney to cease prosecution of persons involved in these practices.

Where Are Psychedelics Being Considered For Legalization?

Federal legislation decriminalizing psychedelic substances does not appear to be on the horizon despite the approval of specific psychedelic substances for medical use via the FDA clinical trial pipeline.

In late July, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reintroduced an amendment to remove federal barriers to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances. The measure was widely rejected by the House, although floor support grew from a previous introduction of the same measure in 2019.

However, several U.S. states have recently passed legislation that calls for research around psychedelic molecules. Other states have bills in congress that could enact further measures around psychedelic legalization.

In California, a bill is being considered that would remove penalties for the possession, personal use and social sharing of certain natural and synthetic psychoactive drugs including psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine, mescaline, LSD, ketamine and MDMA.

The bill passed a Senate vote and is currently on track to the Assembly floor. In a recent interview with Benzinga, Sen. Scott Wiener, the bill’s main sponsor, said he is in favor of full drug decriminalization and this measure is a first step toward that goal.

In 2021, Connecticut and Texas approved bills that launched working groups to study the medical use of psilocybin. In Texas, MDMA and Ketamine are also being studied for the same purpose, with military veterans as the main target group for these therapies.

A similar resolution to study the therapeutic potential of psilocybin was introduced in Hawaii, where a separate senate bill to deschedule psilocybin is also under consideration. In an interview, Hawaii Senator Stanley Chang told us that the goal of the bill is to remove psilocybin and psilocin from the list of Schedule I substances and require Hawaii’s Department of Health to establish treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of these compounds.

Measures involving the decriminalization of psychedelics have also been introduced in a number of other state legislatures, including Florida, where a psilocybin legalization bill died in the senate. In Illinois, a bill to loosen restrictions on entheogenic plants was introduced but never made it to a floor vote.

Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Vermont and New York currently have active bills in their legislature that could bring different levels of decriminalization to certain psychedelic substances. In the Empire State, a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal would establish a psychedelic research institute and a therapeutic research program to study and provide recommendations on the use of psychedelic substances.

As investors, scientific institutions and the general public grow more knowledgeable and interested in the medicinal potential of psychedelics, more states and jurisdictions are expected to roll out further bills and legislative moves that will hopefully open access to psychedelics in different ways across the country.

Más contenido sobre psicodélicos en Español en El Planteo.

Photo: Morgan Lane on Unsplash

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