Atlanta lawmakers met on Tuesday to discuss a proposed resolution in support of locally decriminalizing psychedelics, hearing testimony on the therapeutic benefits of entheogenic substances and discussing a plan to further consider the reform in a work session.
At a hearing before the City Council Public Safety & Legal Administration Committee, members took public comment on the measure that was recently filed Councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari.
Lawmakers described the testimony as “very, very poignant” and “heart-rending” after hearing personal stories from residents about their own experiences with psychedelics, as well as information about emerging research showing how natural medicines like psilocybin can treat a host of mental health conditions such as severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
While the committee didn’t advance the legislation, members voted unanimously to hold the measure for further consideration. At the request of a councilmember who noted the “significant interest from the public,” the chair said that they would discuss holding a work session to learn more about the issue and resolution.
Under the resolution, which is being backed by Decriminalize Nature Georgia, the Atlantic City Council would formally request that police make it “the lowest law enforcement priority” to investigate or arrest people for “planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing Entheogenic Plants, Fungi, and Spores or plant compounds.”
The text makes clear that the measure would not allow for the commercial sale of psychedelics, but also says that “city funds or resources shall not be used in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants, Fungi, and Spores.”
The whereas section of the legislation states that entheogenic substances promote “psychological and physical wellness” and “support and enhance religious and spiritual practices.” It also says the the Council has a “responsibility to protect and support its residents from any violation of their treatment options and any criminalization of the exercise thereof.”
This hearing in Atlanta comes just weeks after a Georgia House committee met at the state level to separately talk about the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin to treat serious mental health conditions that commonly afflict military veterans.
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The panel approved a bipartisan resolution in March that called for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics and make recommendations for reforms. But there were more than a dozen study committee that were created during the last session, and the psychedelics proposal was set aside and not enacted.
Psychedelics policy reform has been a subject of growing interest in city councils and state legislatures across the U.S., particularly in the past three years since Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms at the ballot.
Lawmakers in Missouri recently met to discuss possible solutions to the military veterans’ mental health and suicide crisis, with several people testifying about the possible therapeutic potential of psychedelics for the at-risk population.
Just last week, local San Francisco lawmakers unanimously approved a measure calling for the decriminalization of psychedelics like ibogaine and ayahuasca—locally, in the state and federally.
The resolution made a point to note that the “state legislature has already started the conversation around the decriminalization of personal possession of small amounts of seven psychedelic substances,” in the form of a bill from California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) that passed the Senate and several Assembly committees before being significantly scaled back in a final panel and ultimately pulled by the sponsor.
Local psychedelics decriminalization has been enacted in several major cities in recent years, including Oakland, Detroit and Seattle. A slew of Massachusetts cities have taken similar steps. Voters in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. also decriminalized.
In 2020, Oregon went even further, with voters passing a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use, while also enacting broad drug decriminalization. And this November, Colorado voters will get the chance to make history once again, with an initiative to legalize psychedelics possession for adults and create psilocybin “healing centers” in the state.
Federal health officials are also taking note of the increased adult use of certain entheogenic substances. As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow put it earlier this year, the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently said that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use.
That came in response to letters from bipartisan congressional lawmakers, state legislators and military veterans, who implored the HHS secretary to to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
While Congress hasn’t kept pace with the local and state psychedelics reform movement, more lawmakers have started engaging on the issue. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that natural plants and fungi could be a therapeutic “game changer.”