Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield)

Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield) argues for the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms and said the government turned against them after studies show their use turn people into "peaceniks." (DAYMOND STEER SCREENSHOT)

CONCORD — A bipartisan bill to decriminalize the possession of psilocybin mushrooms was heard by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee Wednesday.

The bill is HB 1349-FN. Its sponsors are Tony Labranche (D-Amherst), Rep. Stacie-Marie Laughton (D-Nashua), Max Abramson (R-Seabrook), Kevin Verville (R-Deerfield), Stephanie Hyland (D-Francistown) and Cam Kenney (D-Durham). The hearing was live-streamed on the committee's Youtube channel. 

Labranche was the first to summarize the bill and the rationale for it. 

"Specifically, decriminalization means that we're not putting people in prison for simply possessing hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms. There are many reasons why this bill came to be and one of those reasons is I don't believe it is the role of government to tell people what they can and cannot do in their own homes," said Labranche. "Hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms have been found to be some of the safest recreational drugs, even compared to alcohol and cannabis."

The bill, as written, would decriminalize mushrooms for people over 18. Labranch explained that decriminalize means "you can still be fined for having mushrooms if you're walking around in public or driving, but you will not go to prison, at least for your first three offenses," he said.

Locking people up for a year costs about $54,000, he said. 

Anyone over age 18 caught with 12 grams or less would be subject to a violationlevel offense. A subsequent offense would be subject to a $300 fine. The fine would be waived if the offender completes a substance abuse assessment, the bill states

Someone caught more than three times it could be a misdemeanor offense, Labranch said. 

Psilocybin mushroom possession charges and convictions appear to be relatively rare in Carroll County. However, Chris Devries, formerly of Jackson, recently pleaded guilty to violating the controlled drug act for possessing the mushrooms. The charge was indicted as class B felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Judge Amy Ignatius gave Devries a 3 1/2 to seven year prison sentence for the mushroom possession conviction that was suspended.

Verville told the House panel humans have been using such mushrooms safely for thousands of years.

He said interest in psychedelics is undergoing a "renaissance" and it would be "bad policy" to turn enthusiasts into felons.  

However, he said addictive drugs like opiates should remain illegal. 

Other speakers in favor were Ian Freeman, who described himself as a minister of the Shire Free Church, which is apparently in Keene, and Bonnie Cruz of Keene. 

Both Freeman and Verville spoke of the religious/spiritual aspects of mushroom use.

"There becomes this evangelistic drive in some people to spread the word, that if you take this, you will see the universe for what it is, you will understand the universal oneness," said Verville. "You will understand we are all related. We are all brothers and sisters, and we're not just related as people, but as everything. We are essentially the universe trying to realize itself."

Not everyone was in favor of the bill. State Police Lt. Bill Bright, who oversees the narcotics unit, said state police are against the bill because they believe decriminalization would create a public safety risk.

"In general, decriminalization of a drug will lead to greater use, some experimentation ... and more impairment on our roads and just general public intoxication," said Bright. 

Eventually the committee will decide whether to recommend the bill to the full House. From there, the bill would go to the Senate and governor. 

Recommended for you

(1) comment

Thaddeus

Daymond, there is a huge difference between legalization and decriminalization. It's irresponsible journalism to write like this.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.