Psilocybin mushrooms, known as magic mushrooms or shrooms. Credit: Yarygin / Shutterstock

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a proposal to decriminalize small amounts of psilocybin, a psychedelic substance and the most common form of “magic mushrooms.”

The bill, raised Wednesday for a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee, would make possession of less than a half-ounce of psilocybin a ticketable offense with fines ranging from $150 for the first instance and between $200 and $500 for subsequent offenses.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

In written testimony submitted this week, Jess Zaccagnino, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, argued that drug use represented a public health issue rather than a criminal matter for which residents should be incarcerated. 

“There are better ways to control drug use, like harm reduction, that will ultimately lead to a healthier and freer society,” Zaccagnino said.

If passed and approved by the governor, the legislation would add Connecticut to a short list of states that have already decriminalized the substance. Voters in Oregon and Colorado took the step through ballot initiatives over the last several years, as have a handful of cities across the country.

But lately an effort to increase the legal availability of psilocybin has been underway in blue and red states alike, largely due to its potential therapeutic qualities. Studies by researchers at  Johns Hopkins Medicine have suggested the substance can be used to reduce hard-to-treat forms of depression when paired with therapy. 

This year’s decriminalization bill is not the first time Connecticut policymakers have tested the psilocybin waters. Legislation passed in 2021 created an advisory group to study whether therapy-assisted psilocybin could provide mental health benefits. 

Despite some potential risks, the group’s report called the limited available research “promising” and suggested the state explore opportunities to fund research projects to better understand the treatment. Lawmakers responded by creating a pilot program through last year’s budget adjustment bill, though the program did not receive dedicated funding.

Chandra Campanelli, a holistic nurse, was among the residents to offer testimony Wednesday on the proposal to decriminalize psilocybin. She told lawmakers that an increasing number of her patients had reported improved wellness as a result of psilocybin. However, she said the drug’s legal status made them unlikely to discuss the matter with their doctors. 

“When I asked them if they had spoken to their providers, they look at me as though I have four heads,” Campanelli said. “Obviously, they do not. It comes with the stigma of criminalization. Again, we have regular people leading regular lives being judged as criminals for something that not only does not provoke harm but also improves the quality of life.”

Despite being a novel proposal for Connecticut lawmakers, it was unclear this week whether the legislation would see any concerted opposition. It received relatively little discussion during Wednesday’s public hearing where it shared an agenda with higher-profile items.

On Thursday, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the committee and supports the bill, said he was surprised by the quiet turnout on the proposal. 

“I did expect to see more testimony in both directions. So I was a little stunned by that,” Winfield said. “But I think it’s a smart approach that we now have to drugs of one sort or another — more of a public health approach, not necessarily criminalizing the use of these drugs is just smarter overall.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with an image of the specific type of mushroom that contains psilocybin.