A young Burlington man was arrested on Thursday following a multi-agency investigation that uncovered a large psilocybin (also known as magic mushroom) grow operation.
Troopers from the Connecticut State Police Statewide Narcotics North Central Office, along with investigators from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Hartford Task Force, arrested 21-year-old Westen Soule after receiving a tip about the grow operation in his residence on Lyon Road in Burlington.
When investigators arrived at the residents, State Police say they made contact with Soule and observed ventilation equipment. They say they then accompanied him to a detached garage that housed several mushroom plants that Soule said were not illegal. When he did not consent to a search of his home, investigators say they requested and received a search warrant and found many more mushrooms inside, including psilocybin.
Investigators say the street value of the mushrooms was $8.5 million.
Psilocybin mushrooms are classified as Schedule One controlled substance for “drugs, substances, and chemicals that are not currently accepted for medical use and have a high potential for abuse.” This designation puts the plants in the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, and above substances like methamphetamines and most prescription opioids.
Soule was charged with possession with intent to distribute, which carries a 15-year maximum sentence, and operating a drug facility. He was held in Litchfield on a $250,000 cash bond ahead of an arraignment today.
While Soule faces hefty charges related to magic mushrooms, state lawmakers are debating decriminalizing the substance and several states, including Connecticut, are exploring its medicinal properties.
A bill that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of psilocybin made it out of committee and through the state House of Representatives in this past session. While it was added to the Senate calendar for this past May, it never made it to a vote on the floor. The bill would have changed the penalty for possession of less than half an ounce of mushrooms from one year to just a $150 fine.
While the substance would still be illegal, it would no longer be treated like a “hard” drug. This reflects changes in the way the public and many lawmakers are thinking about things like hallucinogens and marijuana, which has been legalized for medical and recreational use in 23 states, including nearly all of New England (except New Hampshire) and decriminalized in several more (including New Hampshire).
Meanwhile, a 2021 law charged the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) with studying whether the substance could have medicinal benefits when taken under the supervision of a doctor. According to a 2017 study from researchers at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, among others, psilocybin has the potential to help with the treatment of certain mental health disorders, such as depression, because of the effect it has on serotonin.
Unfortunately for Soule, none of the proposed legislation would have allowed for the type of operation he is accused of running.