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The High Stakes Of Legalizing Psychedelics In Mass

An interview with Jamie Morey, founder of Parents for Plant Medicine: “We have to do better … There is no justification for building a system that creates a disgustingly high price tag to access plant medicine like psilocybin.”

In a recent longform article about the competing approaches to legalizing psychedelics in the Bay State, we turned to activist Jamie Morey to inform us about the greater cause and stakes, as opposed to asking her to comment on behalf of a particular political strategy. The founder of Parents for Plant Medicine is a key figure in the diverse coalition of psychedelic advocates, and speaks passionately from experience on the topic.

As reporter Jack Gorsline wrote in that February feature, Morey became involved in the world of plant medicine due to her two eldest children struggling with PANS/PANDAS, a neurological disorder that causes brain inflammation that results in severe treatment-resistant depression, anxiety, OCD, and a number of other often-debilitating symptoms. She spent years with her family trying various forms of therapy and prescription drugs—all with limited, never-lasting success.

In our latest effort to document the historic push for psychedelic legalization in Mass, Gorsline recently went back to Morey for an extensive interview covering everything from drug affordability to proposed legislation. You can read their exchange in its entirety below. -TJM Editors

Gorsline: Describe your personal and professional background

Morey: I’m a Marshfield mother of four children, ages 11 to 21. I have worked in marketing research/consumer insights for the past 25 years, mostly on a freelance basis while raising a family. I’m taking a break from the corporate world and have transitioned to the nonprofit space, currently working in operations and finance for a homeless family shelter servicing primarily women and children fleeing domestic violence and immigrant/refugee families.

When and why did you first become interested in psychedelics?

Although I did personally use and had positive experiences with psilocybin and LSD as a teenager/in my early twenties, my true interest in psychedelics really began several years ago as I was researching alternative methods of relief for extreme mental health symptoms experienced by my oldest two children, who are now 18 and 21. They suffer from a neurological autoimmune disorder, PANS/PANDAS, which causes brain inflammation resulting in severe treatment resistant depression, anxiety, OCD, and a number of other symptoms that years of traditional therapy and countless SSRIs and other pharmaceuticals had been unable to alleviate.

We eventually tried IV ketamine infusions, which were incredibly effective, but were only temporarily affordable for us through a medical treatment grant that was quickly drained due to the high cost of these treatments—tens of thousands of dollars in our case. After ketamine became financially out of reach, I began a desperate search to find other alternative methods of healing and found hope in all of the research around the mental health benefits of psychedelics. I quickly saw how beneficial they could be for my own children’s mental and physical health issues, as well as for my husband, who is a disabled veteran suffering from PTSD and alcohol addiction, and for me personally as I attempt to heal from my own childhood and caregiver trauma and as I’m going through a painful divorce. My oldest son was doing his own research at the same time, and joined the Psychedelics Club at UMass Amherst, which led us both to become connected with Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, who has been leading the grassroots decriminalization efforts across the state for several years.

What led you to become involved in direct advocacy for the decriminalization and potential legalization of psychedelics?

After I started regularly attending Bay Staters events and biweekly “action hour” calls and hearing all of the stories of how psychedelics had dramatically improved the lives of so many different types of people, of all ages and backgrounds, struggling from so many different painful things in their lives, I got more and more outraged over the fact that these substances continue to be criminalized and stigmatized and I felt like I had to do my part to help change that. I began working with Bay Staters to do advocacy work, calling and emailing and going to speak in person to legislators in Massachusetts in support of An Act Relative to Plant Medicine

I’m on a lot of social media support groups related to my kids’ health condition and found I was spending a lot of time there encouraging other desperate parents to look into the benefits of psilocybin to help heal their young adult children, and themselves, when nothing else has worked and that’s what led me to found Parents for Plant Medicine, an advocacy group that works alongside Bay Staters and other groups like New England Veterans for Plant Medicine, towards decriminalization at the local and state level.

I think parents are in a unique position to be able to both personally benefit from psychedelics to heal themselves from their own mental and physical pain, trauma, addiction, etc. so that they can be their best selves, and parent the best way possible—while also choosing to stop perpetuating the lies the drug war has fed us and raise children to know that psychedelics are powerful medicines to be protected and respected, not feared. Everyone should know that psychedelics can and have improved—and saved—many lives.

You’ve been publicly critical of New Approach PAC/Mass For Mental Health Options’ ballot initiative campaign. What are your primary concerns about their efforts to bring this issue to the voting booth in Massachusetts?

My primary concerns over the New Approach PAC ballot initiative are around accessibility and affordability. Psilocybin, like ketamine, is extremely cheap, but if we over medicalize it and try to force it into existing healthcare models, it will become so expensive that the average person won’t be able to access it. Ketamine costs less than $10 but IV infusions through a clinic cost over $600 each because insurance companies refuse to cover them and we can’t have the same thing happen with psilocybin in Massachusetts.

This is exactly what has happened in Oregon, where people are paying up to $3,000 for a single psilocybin trip. We are in the middle of a mental healthcare crisis in this country and can’t afford to have the promise of psychedelic healing be stolen by greed and government over regulation. I wish that grassroots groups already operating in the state would have been given the opportunity to fully collaborate with New Approach on the ballot initiative before it was filed in order to incorporate the valuable input of actual patients and caregivers who are already or would be accessing psychedelic care—I think together, we could have come up with a better version than one written by a team of lawyers with no personal skin in the game, but we can’t change the past.

At this point, I want to focus my energy on what we can do moving forward to improve specific pieces of the initiative that I feel are most problematic and am willing to work with New Approach if necessary and legislators to ensure that patient and caregiver voices are truly heard. We already have a simple and straightforward one-page piece of legislation, An Act Relative to Plant Medicine, working its way through the legislative process in our state, with bipartisan support, and Bay Staters is working on convincing legislators to push a substitution to the 27-page long ballot initiative, which improves on some (but not all) areas of concern for me, so we’ll see where that goes and am very hopeful our state government will help right some of the wrongs in the ballot initiative.

I don’t want to demonize New Approach, because we are all working toward the common admirable goal of decriminalization, but I think we need to be really careful and thoughtful about doing this in a way that will allow the most people to benefit from this powerful medicine regardless of their financial status. I have a lot of concern about the ballot initiative’s ability to do that as currently written, but I don’t want to set back decriminalization with this being killed in the voting booth either so will continue to call on New Approach to hear patient/caregiver perspectives and incorporate necessary changes via amendments if all else fails.

Grassroots advocates for psychedelic policy reform in Massachusetts have gained and maintained remarkable traction and influence—successfully spearheading decriminalization efforts in seven cities in Massachusetts so far, especially compared to similar movements in Colorado and Oregon. In your opinion, what are some of the reasons that grassroots organization leaders such as yourself have had such a significant impact on tangible legislative reform?

I think grassroots organizations in Massachusetts have been able to have an impact on reform because we have taken the time to connect as humans to educate around this issue, to be vulnerable and tell our very personal stories of pain and suffering and the truth about how psychedelics can help bring healing and relief. We don’t have anywhere close to the money that New Approach does, but we have the power of community and authenticity.

What would you say to parents, families, and individuals who might be against or still on the fence about the use, decriminalization, and/or legalization of psychedelics? 

To those who are against or skeptical about psychedelic decriminalization, I’d say read the existing research, learn all you can, listen to those who have experienced their healing powers, open your mind, think for yourself. There is no logical way to argue that psychedelics should be criminalized while alcohol and tobacco, which are infinitely more harmful in every way, are legal. We all need to think really critically about the lies that have been pushed on us by the war on drugs. The truth about psychedelics is that with education and proper use, they can really change lives for the better and help bring us much-needed happiness and peace.

In response to the high cost of psychedelic care in Oregon, nonprofit financial relief programs have cropped up in an effort to assist patients struggling or unable to afford care. Do you see nonprofit relief as a viable solution to affordability issues? Why or why not?

My family has actually directly benefited from this kind of nonprofit financial support and I’m beyond grateful for treatment grants from the LymeLight Foundation, which allowed my two oldest children to afford IV ketamine infusions, the JBC Fund which has helped us pay to treat my children’s medical condition (PANS/PANDAS), and for me to do a psilocybin journey for PTSD through the Hope Project/Heroic Hearts, which funds psychedelic retreats for veterans and their spouses. Organizations like these and the amazing people that run and fund them are providing such a valuable service by helping people access care that would otherwise be out of reach for financial reasons.

However, this model can not be relied on as a sustainable, viable solution at scale—the need is too great and fundraising dollars are limited. Scholarships and grant money can run out and leave people without ongoing care—as happened to us with ketamine infusions. Not everyone is aware this type of funding even exists, and many don’t have the knowledge, time, or energy to do all the paperwork required to apply for these types of nonprofit grants, which usually take a great deal of time and energy, something typically in short supply for people dealing with the mental and physical health issues that they would be seeking psychedelic therapy to help alleviate.

There is absolutely no justification for building a system in Massachusetts or anywhere else that creates a disgustingly high price tag to access plant medicine like psilocybin that is extremely cheap to produce, allowing some people and corporations to unreasonably profit off of the pain of those who desperately need this type of therapy, and then expecting charitable organizations and donors to foot the bill. That solution feels as useless as suggesting that the answer to our unaffordable housing/homeless crisis is to just apply for a bed at a homeless shelter. We have to do better than that.

Bay Staters has indicated they would like to substitute revised legislation for the current ballot question, and Massachusetts for Mental Health Options Grassroots Director Emily Oneschuck has indicated they are open to collaboration and discussion with local leaders like James and yourself. … What, if any, concessions are you willing to make in order to alter the ballot question as it currently stands?

I would be willing to work with Emily and New Approach and collaborate to get the ballot initiative to a place where I could feel better about fully and enthusiastically supporting it but affordability and accessibility—including a simple, straightforward, and low cost path to licensing for facilitators, like in Rep. Boldyga’s bill H.3605—are things I can’t compromise on. I think to treat people with psilocybin at the scale necessary to meet the current mental health crisis demand, we may need to allow for cultivation and sales, but we absolutely should not repeat the dysfunctional cannabis model in this state.

My main problem with the ballot initiative as it currently stands is the overregulation and creation of this elaborate highly-paid commission, which is simply unnecessary for a naturally occurring substance—the safest drug in the world, responsible for no deaths annually. The underlying implication with this heavy regulatory framework is still the lie that psilocybin is this bad, dangerous thing that we need the government to protect us from, which just isn’t true. I do passionately believe 18-year-olds who are considered “adult” enough to serve in the military should have complete freedom to be able to heal themselves with plant medicine, but I think that could be a hard sell to the general public given current age limits for alcohol and cannabis consumption. I think upping the age to 21 could help decriminalization pass so I would be willing to concede on that if there was a path for 18-20 year olds to still receive treatment through a licensed facilitator. 

While media coverage of the psychedelic grassroots community has been largely centered around Bay Staters for Natural Medicine, Bay Staters’ founder James Davis often highlights you as a key voice of leadership within the grassroots movement—do you see yourself and your work with Parents for Plant Medicine taking on a larger, more public-facing advocacy role in the weeks and months to come?

I’m so impressed and inspired with all James has accomplished with Bay Staters—he’s done such a great job of getting the media coverage he deserves for all his hard work over the past four years and I’ve learned so much from him about grassroots organizing and grassroots activism in our time working together. As a mother of four, I don’t have nearly as much time or energy to invest in advocacy work as I’d like, but I do plan on trying to increase that somehow as the momentum builds around existing decrim legislation and the ballot initiative.

I was pretty surprised to find myself in a position where people care what I think about this issue to be honest, but it seems my experience and my voice resonates because people can sympathize with a mother on a mission, desperate to save her children. I’d like to keep using my voice to help others who don’t have a mom that can or will fight for them to have this critical mental health option and to help other parents who feel like they’ve tried everything see the promise of psychedelics for healing their adult children or healing themselves so they can be the best parent possible.

Aside from yourself and James, who are some other activists and advocates within your coalition that you believe more people should know about and hear from?

We haven’t met in person yet, but Mike Botelho of New England Veterans for Plant Medicine has been a strong voice representing a group I care deeply about. I’ve been separated for the past two years but my husband is a veteran with PTSD and I know psychedelics could really help him in his healing journey. Mike has a powerful story about overcoming addiction and trauma with the help of plant medicine.

Graham Moore is one Bay Stater I’ve really connected with because his story of suffering from OCD and other mental health issues reminds me so much of my oldest son and to hear how psychedelics have helped heal him makes me so hopeful. I hear so many of these stories on the Bay Staters bi-weekly “community action” hour long calls, where people from all over Massachusetts and beyond share their stories of healing and take action together by contacting their legislators to advocate for decriminalization. I think these are the types of people we should all want to hear more from—your average neighbor, coworker, friend, relative, who have their own psychedelic healing story to tell. Beyond the Bay Staters bubble that I’ve been in, I haven’t had the chance to meet many other local activists besides Emily Oneshuck, who I really connected with on a personal level, but I’m looking forward to more opportunities to do that because I think we need a variety of voices in this space calling for change.

What comes next for your work as an activist with Parents for Plant Medicine?

My professional background is in data collection and strategic opinion research, so my dream is to be able to conduct real-world research that could be used for activism, to inform communication and messaging strategies around decriminalization and education, produce data and meaningful insights on the ways people use and benefit from plant medicine, and be able to quantify and communicate all of these personal healing stories for education and to help influence the opinions of those who are skeptical, as well as legislators and others in position of power.

Dreams aside, I definitely plan to continue with more outreach and education work. I love connecting with people one-on-one to talk about plant medicine and want to do more of that in my town of Marshfield and across the South Shore, as well as hold in-person events and start building more of a presence on social media, writing articles, sharing stories, and continuing to spread awareness since there are still so many people out there that know very little, if anything, about the benefits of psychedelics.

I find it hard to take the hypocrisy around alcohol use being so normalized and celebrated—even though it’s literally poison with no therapeutic value, responsible for nearly 150,000 American deaths annually, while psilocybin—which is so safe, impossible to overdose on or abuse—is villainized. I find it disturbing that so many people think pharmaceuticals, with all their many harmful side effects, are the only option for treating most mental and physical health issues when there are actually many helpful plants and fungi that have amazing medicinal properties. I want to keep spreading the word so that everyone knows about the magic of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics, as well as the healing power of cannabis, which has been so beneficial to my own young adult children and me.

A strong stigma still exists among parents around using this medically for their children, and I’d like to help change that. I want everyone to know that there are really powerful, natural, safe healing alternatives to pharmaceuticals that should be considered, and I’m grateful to be living in a state that has recognized this fact with cannabis and is on the path to doing the same with psychedelics.

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