Virginia debates whether to decriminalize ‘magic mushrooms’

A Virginia Senate committee is debating whether to move forward with a bill that would decriminalize the possession of psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in the hallucinogenic drug commonly known as “magic mushrooms.”

Supporters of the idea argued that it is an extremely effective tool in combating mental health issues, such as severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

The legislation was introduced Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Ghazala Hashmi.

“Psilocybin has the potential to alleviate a lot of these mental health issues, especially for those folks for whom other medications are simply not working,” Hashmi said. “Preliminary research is showing that it also perhaps helps with substance addiction.”

A number of jurisdictions around the country have decriminalized magic mushrooms in recent years, including D.C., where voters passed a ballot measure in 2020 that made the drug among the lowest priorities for law enforcement.

Some of the other places that have decriminalized the psychedelic drug include Denver, Colorado; Oakland, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Hashmi’s bill would bring down the penalty for possession from a felony to a civil fine of up to $100.

Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from numerous individuals who said magic mushrooms saved their lives because it helped rid their minds of suicidal thoughts.

“I returned home suffering from PTSD,” said Wyly Gray, a Marine veteran who helps other veterans deal with mental trauma. “At points I was actively suicidal.”

Those kinds of comments attracted some Republican support.

“I am swayed by the testimony of the military,” said Republican Sen. Mark Peake.

The committee decided to revisit the legislation next week, as Peake asked for potential amendments to prevent recreational use of magic mushrooms and ensure that the drug would only be decriminalized for medicinal purposes.

If the legislation does make it through the Democratically controlled Senate, it would have a more difficult time passing through the Republican-led House of Delegates.

Virginia Republicans have traditionally been reluctant to reduce penalties for drug use.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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