Just days after the approval of the nation’s first successful measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver, a major city in California is moving to consider a measure that goes even further by calling for an end to arrests and prosecutions of people for possessing additional psychedelic drugs such as mescaline cacti, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
The resolution, which would seek to bar police and other city officials from using “any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession” of the plant- and fungi-based substances, has been scheduled for a hearing before the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee on May 28.
If approved there, it would head to the full Council for a final vote.
The investigation and arrest of adults for using, cultivating or distributing the psychedelics—sometimes referred to as entheogens—would be classified as “amongst the lowest law enforcement priority” for the city under the measure, which also specifies that the Council “wishes to declare its desire not to expend City resources in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants.”
While the resolution is not strictly binding, meaning that if approved it would express the will of the Council instead of immediately leading to a change in city enforcement code, advocates believe that a strong vote of support would influence the mayor to take executive action directing local police to stop pursuing people for psychedelics.
“We already have support from at least five members of the Council, but our goal is to get eight out of eight to show unanimous support, because this affects all communities in Oakland,” Carlos Plazola, an organizer with the group Decriminalize Nature, which worked to help draft the measure, said in an interview.
Sponsored by Councilmember Noel Gallo, the resolution would also instruct Oakland’s state and federal lobbyists to “work in support of decriminalizing” psychedelics and calls upon the district attorney of Alameda County, of which Oakland is the seat, to “cease prosecution of persons involved in the use of Entheogenic Plants or plant-based compounds” that are listed in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Gallo was not available for comment, but a staffer in his office, Mar Velez, said in an email that the measure asks local police to “honor an understanding that use of entheogenic plants by adults be one of the lowest priorities in terms of enforcement.”
One change to the resolution from Decriminalize Nature’s initial draft was to remove the word “personal” as a qualifier for the amount of substances protected—a lesson learned from the mushroom campaign in Denver, where the city attorney’s office is now formulating an interpretation of just how much psilocybin should be considered shielded from enforcement.
It’s our turn now! Go #Oakland! Get the word out far and wide. Contact your councilmembers to support this. And especially, bring yourself and others to this important hearing. #DecriminalizeNature #entheogen pic.twitter.com/tzXtwzikum
— Decriminalize Nature (@DecrimNature) May 11, 2019
Plazola said that moves to reform laws banning entheogens can help “heal our relationship with the planet and raise the question: Why is it a criminal act to have a relationship with plants and fungi that are natural?”
While the substances have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, interest in studying their potential medical benefits has grown among mainstream scientists only fairly recently.
“For millennia, cultures have respected entheogenic plants and fungi for providing healing, knowledge, creativity, and spiritual connection,” reads a memo on the resolution from Gallo’s office. “Recently, scientific studies are demonstrating entheogens can be beneficial for treating conditions such as end-of-life anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, cluster-headaches, PTSD, neurodegeneration, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and treatment resistant depression, as well as reduce rates of intimate partner violence and recidivism.”
While advocates support increased scientific research, they are concerned that walling off psychedelics under a purely clinical approach would make access too restrictive and expensive.
“If it gets into too much of a regulatory process, then what happens is communities that need these the most continue to have the least access,” Plazola said.
The memo from Gallo’s office cautioned that such a model would make consumers “dependent on industry and authority for access.”
“By choosing to decriminalize nature, this empowers Oakland residents to be able to grow their own entheogens, share them with their community, and choose the appropriate setting for their intentions,” the document says. “As this national conversation on entheogens grows, we feel it is essential to influence the debate now and take a stand for disenfranchised communities who may be left out of the dominant model by opening a way for individual and community access.”
Aside from the Oakland proposal and the Denver psilocybin measure, which was approved by voters last week by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, a number of other efforts on broader drug policy reform beyond marijuana are now taking shape.
For example, California activists are also working to draft a ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin statewide. Earlier this month they took the initial step of outlining the proposed measure’s goals and asked the state Office of Legislative Council for assistance in crafting ballot language.
Elsewhere, activists in Oregon are already collecting signatures for an initiative that would legalize psilocybin for medical use and otherwise reduce penalties for the substance.
Both the California and Oregon efforts aim to qualify the measures for their state’s 2020 presidential election ballots.