HARTFORD – A bill that would decriminalize small quantities of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound found in some mushrooms, passed the State House on Wednesday.
If approved by the rest of the legislature, the bill would change the penalty for possessing less than a half-ounce of psilocybin mushrooms – also known as magic mushrooms – from up to a year in prison to a $150 fine for the first offense.
State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said the bill doesn’t legalize the possession or sale of psilocybin, but reduces its penalty to a misdemeanor with possible prison time, to an infraction with a fine.
“It would still be illegal to possess psilocybin, but just not treated as draconianly as we treat other substances,” Stafstrom said.
The bill passed the House by a 86-64 vote, with two Republicans voting in favor and 13 Democrats voting against it. The bill would still need approval from the Senate and Gov. Ned Lamont.
Several Republicans spoke against the bill, saying it would “rush” the state toward legalizing psilocybin before it has been approved for medical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For second offenses, current law states the court can order substance abuse treatment for a second offense and up to three years in prison for a third. The bill would change that to a $200 to $500 fine for a second offense, and a drug education program for their third.
Lawmakers began opening the door to psilocybin in 2021, when they tasked the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to study whether the drug could have a beneficial use in health care, particularly mental health care.
The report found that research, including studies at Yale University and Johns Hopkins University, showed there could be health benefits from the medical use of psilocybin “under the supervision of health professionals” for treatment for substance abuse, major depression, and care for end-of-life anxiety and depression.
The report found that psilocybin has been found to be safe and carries a low risk of dependence, abuse and death. But the report acknowledged that, while risks were low in supervised settings, there are much higher risks when it’s used unsupervised, including “serious risks” of suicidal ideation and self-harm.
The report recommended legalizing “medically supervised use” of psilocybin when it’s approved by the FDA, which Stafstrom said could happen by 2025.
“Based on current research data, psilocybin for therapeutic purposes should not be taken in unsupervised settings, nor should it be a take-home medication,” the report said. “Research finds that effective psilocybin treatment follows a very specific model using careful screening practices, close supervision of study participants, specially trained health or mental health professionals, and a carefully delineated therapeutic process designed to safely dose and administer psilocybin.”
State Rep. David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, said the state should explore the medical use of psilocybin, because studies show that “it does seem to work,” but it can have serious side effects if it’s not administered or monitored properly.
Stafstrom said decriminalizing psilocybin isn’t saying that it’s “OK” for people to self-medicate with the drug, but it recognizes that there are people who are doing that, and that it’s being shown to have positive effects.
He said a close friend had self-medicated with psilocybin to deal with an addiction to painkillers, depression and suicidal thoughts, and that he credited the drug with saving his life.
“What we’re saying is if those individuals are caught with this substance, rather than punishing them with a year in prison for self-medicating with this substance, we would instead give them a fine,” Stafstrom said. “And for a second offense, we would send them for some drug education counseling to hopefully get them the help and support they need.”
House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, warned that decriminalization was the first step toward legalizing the drug for medical use, then commercializing it like lawmakers did with marijuana.
Candelora complained that legal marijuana has led to the drug becoming so common that “you can’t get away from it.”
When the state decriminalized marijuana in 2011, he said, there was at least discussion about the possible impacts on children that hasn’t happened with psilocybin.
“To suggest that this is an innocent piece of legislation, I don’t think it is,” Candelora said. “It’s frustrating because the science isn’t there yet to prove the efficacy of psilocybin.”
Stafstrom argued that current laws impose too harsh a punishment for possession of psilocybin, and that the drug should not be treated “in the same category” as drugs like heroin, cocaine and fentanyl that “do not have and have not been shown to have a beneficial medical use.”