PROVINCETOWN — At its Dec. 11 meeting, the select board considered a subject that’s rarely on its agenda: psychedelic drugs.
Board member Erik Borg had submitted for discussion a resolution written by James Davis, executive director of the advocacy group Bay Staters for Natural Medicine. The resolution called for psychedelic plants and fungi to be the “lowest law enforcement priority for Provincetown.”
The resolution also asked state legislators to replace the text of the “Natural Psychedelic Substances Act,” a proposed ballot measure that could soon qualify for this November’s election, with “language that legalizes plant medicine services in a straightforward manner.”
Borg told the board that Davis has helped educate municipalities across the state about psilocybin. Davis made the case that the ballot measure as it stands would impose crippling costs on psilocybin users and facilitators — actually slowing rather than aiding a move toward medicinal use.
The select board discussed Davis’s resolution for nearly an hour, in the end voting to endorse it, though with some changes.
Provincetown resident Patricia van Dijkhuizen said that she has trained as a psychedelic practitioner in the Netherlands, Jamaica, and Costa Rica, but she cannot offer her services, including end-of-life therapies, in Massachusetts. “I support this measure so that people like me can practice legally and, very importantly, to make it affordable to those who need it,” van Dijkhuizen said.
“Out-of-state super PACs want to impose a complex regulatory system that will confound local business opportunities,” said Anna Meade, a Provincetown resident and visitor services board member, during public comments at the outset of the meeting. “Provincetown can play a pivotal role in influencing state policy for simple regulatory oversight,” she added.
Meade has been an advocate for the safe use of cannabis. Her 2019 book Cannabis, a Big Sister’s Guide was inspired by her sister’s experience using cannabis during cancer treatment.
“We can learn from the lessons of Oregon and Colorado, where psilocybin was legalized, but in a way that drove all of that activity underground,” Davis said.
A 2020 ballot measure in Oregon legalized supervised use by adults in “psilocybin service centers,” but the process of supplying, securing, and licensing those facilities has proved costly.
Davis said that “it costs tens of thousands of dollars per year to operate as a facilitator in Oregon,” and that a single supervised use session can cost $3,500.
Meanwhile, “a simple $40 grow bag you can get on the internet” produces 50 times more psychoactive mushrooms than an individual could ever use, Davis said, which is why most people who use mushrooms now receive them inexpensively from friends who grow them.
The measures that passed in Oregon and Colorado were funded by a political action committee called New Approaches, according to the Boston Globe. In both states, possessing and sharing small amounts of psilocybin has been decriminalized, but only highly regulated “service centers” could offer guide services to clients. Colorado recently made “unlicensed facilitation” a misdemeanor.
New Approaches is also funding the ballot measure in Massachusetts, according to the Globe. Legislators have the authority to substitute their own language in a ballot measure, according to the State House News Service, and Davis wants them to remove the “psychedelic centers” and the five-person Natural Psychedelic Substances Commission from the bill.
In their place, Davis said, he supports H.3605, a bill currently before the legislature that would license facilitators after a more limited training program, a background check, and a $155 biannual license fee.
Select board member Leslie Sandberg wanted to know how Davis’s plan would secure high-quality medical therapy for people with addiction, traumatic brain injuries, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The way this helps people under medical supervision is amazing,” Sandberg said. “But if you’re offering this as recreational, people are going to start self-medicating.”
“The medical model might be ideal for some, and this resolution doesn’t foreclose that possibility,” Davis said. But limiting psychedelics to medical settings would make them very expensive, Davis said, and MassHealth would almost certainly refuse to pay for them because of federal funding rules. Many of the people who most need help, like veterans with PTSD, would be unlikely to actually receive it, Davis said.
Borg said that mushrooms were already being used recreationally. “Bringing them above ground so that there can be trained people like Patricia” would be safer than the status quo, he said, referring to van Dijkhuizen.
“I’m more conservative — I’m 61 years old, and I’ve seen friends die from addictions,” Sandberg said. “This is just my opinion. The rest of you can feel differently, and I respect that, but if we’re trying to help people with medical problems, I believe having experts with them is better.”
Select board chair Dave Abramson said that he would rather see town meeting voters take up the resolution in April than have the select board vote on it.
But Davis pushed the board to arrive at a vote. “We have until January to amend the bill, or five unelected people appointed by lobbyists could be running this issue,” Davis said.
The regulatory commission in the current ballot measure would be appointed by the governor, attorney general, and state treasurer.
Select board member John Golden said that he has distrusted pharmaceutical companies since the 1990s, when early HIV medicines like AZT turned out to be toxic at their originally approved dosages.
“To me, the drug companies are only about making money,” Golden said, adding that the billionaire Peter Thiel, “who is Donald Trump’s buddy,” is planning to invest in supervised psychedelic centers. “I do not trust that man making a decision about anything that has to do with my life,” Golden said of Thiel.
Thiel has a stake in Compass Pathways, a company that is developing a synthetic psilocybin compound, according to a 2021 report in Mother Jones.
Davis had told the select board that he became an advocate for psilocybin when it helped his brother overcome an addiction to opiates. “If this could help cure the opioid crisis, it would be amazing,” Golden said.
Select board member Austin Miller said that he appreciated Golden’s arguments and was willing to vote for the resolution as long as some wording was changed to make it clear that the select board could not specifically direct the actions of the town’s law enforcement personnel.
Borg said he could accept Miller’s revisions, and he moved to endorse a slightly altered version of the resolution. Borg, Golden, and Miller voted in favor of the revised version, Abramson voted against it, and Sandberg abstained.
Provincetown is the seventh community in Massachusetts to endorse the resolution, according to Davis. Somerville was first in January 2021, Davis told the Independent, followed by Cambridge, Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, and Salem.