Salem is one of the oldest and most interesting cities in our nation. First settled in the early 1600s, it was the second official community in Massachusetts, following Plymouth a few years prior. Perhaps one of the most infamous (and disturbing) points in the town’s history was the witch trials of 1692 in which at least 25 people were murdered and hundreds more were imprisoned.
Interestingly, a longstanding theory exists that the unconventional behavior of the accused was not caused by witchcraft, but rather, experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs. Whether this is true or not is hard to say, but it’s a plausible idea as psychedelics can make people more open to different spiritual concepts and practices. And the natural element of most of the drugs fits in well with many Pagan beliefs and rituals.
Over the years, Massachusetts has become rather liberal, and the community of Salem is no exception as they recently became the sixth locale in the state to move towards decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms. Let’s take a closer look at the recent measure, as well as dive into some of Salem’s colorful history.
What’s the news?
On May 11th, the city of Salem made the official move toward ending arrests for magic mushrooms when the city council unanimously (9-0) passed a measure that calls for the decriminalization of psilocybin products. The bill specifically asks the Essex County District Attorney to abstain from prosecuting people for possession of magic mushrooms and other items containing psilocybin.
“It makes me a better father, it makes me more productive in a mindful way,” said Councilman Andy Varela, chair of the Public Health, Safety and Environmental Committee.
The measure had an interesting and unlikely supporter, Salem’s chief of police, Lucas Miller. “The indications that psilocybin could be helpful for opiate addiction is something that should not be ignored. We lose about 20 people in Salem a year to opioid overdose.”
The move was largely backed by, Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, a group that advocates for decriminalizing plant-derived medicines. “Our communities deserve access to these plant medicines. From parents to veterans to law enforcement, many different types of people are working through trauma with these gifts of nature,” remarked James Davis, a co-founder of Bay Staters. “They are becoming more conscientious and compassionate versions of themselves. It’s beautiful.”
Although the bill hasn’t been enacted into law yet, it’s expected to pass with a second unanimous vote and get sent to the mayor’s desk in the upcoming weeks. And to clarify, this measure does not make psilocybin mushrooms completely legal, nor does it authorize the purchase, sale, or distribution of any such products.
Some history about Salem
Salem was one of the earliest settlements in North America, and the second established community in Massachusetts. It was founded in 1626 by a group of immigrants from Cape Ann led by colonist Roger Conant. The community was originally name Naumkeag belonged to a Native American tribe by the same name, but the settlers decided to rename it Salem, which is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace”.
Salem is an important town in our nation’s culture and history. As a matter of fact, during the Revolutionary war, a party of Salem-area patriots became the first armed resistance to British rule. They made a stance on February 26th, 1775 when they raised the North Bridge drawbridge preventing Col. Leslie and his British forces from commandeering their ammunition and army supplies stores.
But all that aside, what the town is perhaps best known for, are the Salem witch trials that began in 1692. In just a few short months, at least 25 innocent people were accused of witchcraft and killed either by hanging, drowning, or pressing/crushing, and countless more were imprisoned awaiting execution. Ironically, the trials ended when the Governor William Phipps wife was accused, at which point he disbanded the court, pardoned all the prisoners, and ceased all trials.
An interesting theory surrounding the trials, is that the erratic behavior exhibited by those believed to be practicing witchcraft, where in fact caused by use of psychedelic drugs (whether intentional or accidental is up for debate), including rye ergot/LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. Over 300 years after people were possibly persecuted and killed for using magic mushrooms, and now Salem is on the list of early locales to decriminalize them
Where else in Massachusetts are magic mushrooms decriminalized?
Previous communities to adopt similar measures are Cambridge, Somerville, Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst. Somerville was the first location to make the move, back in 2021, and it all started with a 31-year-old resident, Alex Karasik, who was looking for a way to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I was nearly killed in a robbery in Chicago four years ago, and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. And a lot of my life plans were derailed,” Karasick testified during a council meeting. “I wasn’t able to sleep, and I was in a really dark place mentally. Through a combination of therapy and psilocybin mushrooms, over time I have overcome my experience, and I’m happy to say that I’m in a much better place mentally.”
Following his testimony, the council voted unanimously to decriminalize entheogenic plants. As per the resolution, “Somerville agencies and employees, including police, should not use city resources to assist in enforcing laws against the use and possession of entheogenic plants by adults.” Paving the way to eventual decriminalization throughout all of Massachusetts.
“This is just another tool in the tool box in terms of what we have available to help with many of the afflictions that are affecting society today,” said Councilor Jesse Clingan, one of the sponsors of the resolution.
Although it doesn’t sound like a huge deal, being the sixth city to decriminalize mushrooms… it most certainly is. Not only are they sixth out of 351 cities and towns in the state, but it sets a certain precedent that eventually, more regions will follow.
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