Just months after Governor Daniel McKee of Rhode Island signed into law a bill proposing the establishment of what will be the country’s first overdose prevention sites, lawmakers in the Ocean State have launched two drug decriminalization bills in what may be seen as an accelerated effort to adopt more progressive drug policies.
This comes at a time when the “War on Drugs” has failed terribly, for a large part, and more and more states are leaning towards drug decriminalization and public health-centered interventions as a way to address problems associated with drug use and addiction.
One of the bills, sponsored by representative Brandon Potter (D), looks to build on the existing marijuana decriminalization policy by including both buprenorphine and psilocybin on the list of restricted substances whose possession doesn’t amount to a criminal penalty in the state.
Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound found in psychedelic “magic” mushrooms, which has shown incredible potential in helping manage severe mental disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD and could be instrumental in mitigating the widespread mental health crisis in the country. Buprenorphine, on the other hand, is a type of opioid medication that has shown great success in treating opioid addiction.
But unlike marijuana which doctors can only “recommend” to avoid any licensing repercussions, the proposed bill would give qualified medical professionals the green light to, “in good faith,” prescribe psilocybin for therapeutic use. The proposal also gives the director of health the mandate to promulgate the rules and regulations needed to effect this provision if passed into law.
The second bill was sponsored by representative Jose Batista (D) and looks to implement a far-reaching drug policy reform that would prevent criminal prosecution or jail time for possession of up to 1 oz. (one ounce) or less of any substance listed in The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), with the exception of fentanyl.
According to the bill, a violator would be subject to a $100 civil penalty for first-time offenders and $300 fines for any subsequent offenses. This is a significant departure from the current policy where individuals caught in possession of drugs can face criminal prosecution and jail time, in addition to other punitive measures such as fines, and community service.
Both bills, if passed into law, would put Rhode Island at the forefront of drug decriminalization efforts and send a clear message that the state is willing to abandon failed punitive drug policies in favor of progressive laws and evidence-based intervention measures which can help save lives and improve public health.
Rhode Island is also nearing marijuana legalization for recreational use by adults in the state. This push to legalize marijuana is spearheaded by Governor Dan McKee (D) and would bring Rhode Island to par with over 20 other US states which have already adopted similar measures.
It is indeed a new dawn for drug policy reform in Rhode Island, and it will be interesting to see how these bills progress through the state legislature.