Lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee moved forward Thursday with a proposal to decriminalize psilocybin. The bill would make possession of small amounts of the psychedelic mushroom a ticketable infraction in Connecticut rather than an arrestable offense.
The panel voted during an early afternoon meeting to send the bill to the House for consideration. If approved, possession of less than half an ounce of psilocybin would result in a $150 fine on the first offense. Subsequent offenses would carry fines of between $250 and $500 as well as referrals to drug education programs.
During the meeting, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who co-chairs the panel, highlighted recent research suggesting that psilocybin had therapeutic benefits when used to treat certain mental health conditions as well as treatments in palliative and end-of-life care.
“This is a substance that I know from my discussions with my constituents is being used by individuals instead of painkillers as a way to deal with PTSD, end-of-life issues, pain and suffering from burns,” he said.
The bill would not legalize psilocybin for recreational use or for medical treatment, Stafstrom said. Instead, fines would replace the penalties under current law which allow a prison sentence of up to one year for possession, he said.
“What it does do is recognize the fact that possession of this substance should not be treated as our highest-level A misdemeanor, that it should be treated differently than something like heroin or fentanyl and has a medical benefit to it,” he said.
The change would put Connecticut among 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.
Other states like Rhode Island are considering amending their psilocybin laws in part due to ongoing research into the substance’s therapeutic potential. Studies by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have suggested psilocybin can be used to mitigate hard-to-treat forms of depression when paired with therapy.
On Thursday, some Republican members of the committee worried that decriminalizing the substance would lead to an increase in the number of people driving under the influence in Connecticut. Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, questioned whether law enforcement officers were capable of assessing whether a driver was operating under the influence of psilocybin.
“If it is hallucinogenic, by its very nature, by how we refer to it, you’re going to be seeing something that’s either not there or amplified in some way and my guess is you really need to have good vision and be aware of your surroundings while you’re driving,” he said.
Kissel speculated proponents would eventually seek to legalize recreational use of psilocybin if they succeeded in decriminalizing the substance. He referenced the state’s 2021 legalization of cannabis.
“We’re moving in a direction. I sorta get where it’s going,” Kissel said. “It sorta naturally flows from the legalization of marijuana. It’s not surprising that this issue is now dropping as well.”
In response to Kissel’s comments, Stafstrom said the psilocybin bill would not change Connecticut’s laws on driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In fact, the bill clarified that someone driving under the influence of psilocybin would have their driver’s license suspended.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R- Wallingford, said those DUI penalties did little to address roadway fatalities caused by impaired driving.
“Unfortunately in many of these instances, somebody’s dead and you can’t bring them back,” Fishbein said. “So it’s not solace to me that, ‘Well they’re still going to get arrested for driving under the influence.’”