Expert: Legalization of Psychedelic Drugs Would ‘Broaden Access to Research’

Ismail Lourido Ali, the director and counsel of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), addresses the difference between legalization and decriminalization of psychedelic drugs, specifically in reference to the impact on medical research.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Ismail Lourido Ali, the director and counsel of policy and advocacy at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), on psychedelic medicine policy and current advancements in the field.

During the discussion, Ali addressed the difference between legalizing and decriminalizing psychedelic drugs, specifically in reference to the potential impact of each on medical research.

“Decriminalization is kind of its own track, where it's just removing the criminal penalties for personal possession, use, cultivation, or something along those lines. Legalization is a bit more of an affirmative protection. So, you can decriminalize but keep activity about these drugs in a civilly illegal place,” Ali said. “Maybe you don't get incarcerated, but maybe there's a fine or maybe they force you into treatment or something along those lines.”

Ali noted that legalization not only eliminates criminal and civil consequences or punishments for a certain behavior, but the law actually cognizes that behavior in the sense that there's a regulated system around it.

“One example or metaphor I like to give is that decriminalizing personal possession and use will create an island of legal behavior. It's legal for me to possess the substance if it's been fully decriminalized—no civil or criminal penalties. But to get to that island, I have to wade through all of this illegal behavior because it's still illegal to cultivate it, to be able to manufacture it, to transport it, and so on,” Ismail said. “Legalization, in my mind, is creating a fully cognized system that establishes a regulated approach toward every aspect, whereas decriminalization is going to be removing the criminal and or civil penalties from a sliver of that behavior.”

Ali explained investigators are often going to be working in an exception category, in which it's permitted to do their research with the right permissions from the DEA. With legal access, a wider range of research from a wider range of sources would be possible.

“For example, anyone can do research on tomatoes right now; some is considered more legit than others. But I think, similarly, if you're doing research on psychedelics, you better have a DEA license, because that's the only way you can publish it,” Ali said. “So, I think that it would broaden access to research if there were legal access.”