Implications of Senate Bill 709

In May 2022, Maryland passed Senate Bill 709: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury Alternative Therapies Fund. Specifically, it created a fund that allowed certain military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to use emerging treatments based on the use of psychedelic medicines and substances, including psilocybin, ketamine, and MDMA. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Sheppard Pratt, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and BrainFutures are all working together to evaluate how psychedelic therapy has impacted the mental health and overall well-being of veterans who were eligible to use the psychedelics to treat PTSD and other complications caused by brain injuries. If the treatments are promising after several years of careful monitoring and research, the program’s concept could potentially be expanded through other bills to treat different brain injuries and mental health disorders.

Are Psychedelics Legal for Everyone in Maryland?

Importantly, 2022 Maryland Senate Bill 709 did not make psychedelics legalized for the general public. The bill only made it legal for eligible veterans to use new psychedelic-based medical treatments. Under federal law, psilocybin and other psychedelics considered by the bill are still Schedule I substances in Maryland, which means it is illegal to grow, purchase, or consume them. Oddly, though, possessing the spores of certain psychedelic substances and mushrooms is not illegal. For most people, any use or interaction with psychedelic substances could still result in criminal charges for drug crimes.

Decriminalization: From Psilocybin to Marijuana

Although psychedelic substances are still broadly illegal in Maryland, it can be argued that Senate Bill 709 made immediate impacts on how the public and politicians view controversial substances and medical treatments. Only a year after the bill was enacted into law, in 2023, Maryland voted to decriminalize recreational marijuana in many contexts. Currently, possessing up to 1.5 oz for personal use is completely legal, and it is only a civil offense or infraction if someone possesses more than 1.5 oz, up to 2.5 oz of recreational marijuana or cannabis.

Even though the possession, sale, and cultivation of marijuana are still illegal in some circumstances (usually when considering large amounts or interactions with minors), not long ago, many Maryland residents and legislators would have never imagined that marijuana would be decriminalized in the state. It seems clear that Senate Bill 709’s attempt to shine a positive light on the benefits of medical psychedelics helped pave some of the path to decriminalizing marijuana in Maryland.

Social Impacts of Senate Bill 709

The legalization of psychedelics in limited situations also acts as a promising sign for legislators, civil rights groups, and even criminal defense attorneys in Maryland who have been eager to see the law loosen up around substance use. With the decriminalization of marijuana in many contexts, fewer people can be expected to land behind bars for simple possession in the future, so the same could one day be true for people who possess psychedelics for medical or personal use. Overall, the passage of the bill was a big step toward wider criminal reform that encourages responsible substance use and rehabilitation over harsh penalties.

On the other hand, lawmakers are tinkering with the nuanced legal implications of Senate Bill 709 and the decriminalization of marijuana. What rights do employers have to penalize an employee who clocks into work while using medically prescribed psychedelics or cannabis? Or does a Maryland family law court have the option to consider a parent’s medically approved psychedelic use when assigning child custody? As with any legal change, 2022 Maryland Senate Bill 709 already has complications along with its benefits, so more legal work is needed.

Long-Term Implications & Monitoring

The long-term implications of Senate Bill 709 will be a subject of ongoing analysis and monitoring in both the medical and legal worlds. Such monitoring efforts will provide valuable data that can inform future policy decisions and ensure that the intended benefits of the legislation are realized, such as improved mental health for veterans with PTSD without an increase in illegal psychedelic use.

At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, we understand the complexities of navigating criminal charges, especially when new laws like Senate Bill 709 create new questions about what is illegal and what is not. Our team of experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys is dedicated to providing reliable legal representation and guidance to anyone who has been charged with a drug crime or another serious criminal offense. If you need to defend yourself from the harsh penalties of Maryland law, do not hesitate to contact us online or dial (410) 927-5137 at any time.
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