On June 4th 2019, Oakland, California became the second city in the United States to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms for personal use. This decision came on the heels of Denver, Colorado doing the same thing a little less than a month earlier on May 8th.
Oakland went a step further than Denver, however; not only did the city council pass a resolution that makes psilocybin among their police force’s lowest priorities, they also awarded the same status to all natural psychedelic and hallucinogenic plants or fungi – also known as entheogenic plants – including cacti. As a result, citizens can now use psilocybin and other substances – such as peyote – independently without fear of prosecution. This is a big step for Oakland, California, and America, and is very exciting for supporters of this growing movement.
How Oakland Did It
Like Denver, Oakland was working on this move for a while. City Councilmember Noel Gallo first introduced the idea into the Oakland City Council. Gallo is of Native American descent, and was familiar with entheogenic plants during his youth; his grandmother grew such plants in her backyard within Oakland city limits and the use of them to him was normal. In interviews, Gallo seems to be quite aware of the many applications of these plants to mental health and healing from a traditional, tribal standpoint.
Gallo’s push for the passage of this resolution was backed by Decriminalize Nature Oakland, a group that promotes natural psychedelic substances for health benefits. The group helped to publicize the change and to garner support for it from the public leading up to its passage.
As in Denver, decriminalization does not mean these substances are now legal. In fact, they remain illegal under state and federal law. However, within the city of Oakland, these plants are now among the lowest priority for law enforcement; no criminal penalties may be imposed using civil funds, and no money may be allocated for investigation or prosecution of individuals found in possession of psilocybin or other, similar entheogens.
Of course, this decision only pertains to natural hallucinogenic substances. Synthetic, man-made substances, such as LSD and MDMA are not included under this umbrella, and individuals caught possessing those substances will still be prosecuted. Furthermore, this new law does not allow for commercial sale or production of psilocybin mushrooms or similar substances. Oakland residents should not expect to see entheogen dispensaries any time soon.
Before passage of this new resolution, Oakland Councilman Loren Taylor added several amendments that were accepted by the council. His additions included suggestions that adults trying these substances for the first time begin with small amounts to see how they react, and recommendations that users seek expert guidance when using. He also added that a trusted friend who will remain sober during the experience to aid them on their journeys should accompany users.
The resolution passed unanimously.
Why Oakland Did It
The reasons Oakland’s City Council passed this decriminalization effort are numerous. Councilman Noel Gallo, the sponsor of the law, believes that this resolution will save money and will help to allocate police resources to more pressing matters. However, he also acknowledges that past arrests for these substances were minimal anyway, and that the financial savings will not be that great.
Gallo also supported this idea for other reasons though; he feels that presenting and passing this sort of resolution will help to further legitimize the use of these substances for mental health care treatment. Studies have shown that entheogens can treat depression and more. One 2016 study found that patients treated with psilocybin over the course of just one week reduced depression symptoms dramatically in patients diagnosed with the condition. Other studies have suggested similar results for conditions such as anxiety and others. Advocates further argue that these substances have been used by many cultures for hundreds of years for spiritual use and mental health treatment with generally positive effects.
Prior to the City Council’s vote, over thirty citizens lined up to testify on the topic. The majority were supports of this resolution and told stories about ways entheogens have helped them or those they love with trauma, addiction, depression, anxiety, and other struggles. One speaker in support of the resolution was Susan Eager Valdez, the director of the Huichol Center for Cultural Survical and Traditional Arts. Her center supports the people of the Wixarika tribe in Mexico, a group that uses entheogens regularly with the aid of elders or shamans. She suggested that Americans learn from the group and begin to develop their own, similar rituals of ingestion.
What’s Next for Enthenogen Decriminalization
This is an exciting time for users and proponents of entheogen research and treatment. Oakland and Denver may have been the first two US cities to decriminalize psilocybin and similar substances, but they certainly won’t be the last. They certainly have set the ball rolling and other areas will soon follow suit. There are actually efforts in several states underway currently in efforts to extend this sort of decriminalization further.
Groups in Oregon have been moving forward towards decriminalization for quite some time. A statewide, 2020 ballot measure needs 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, and its supporters are well on their way. The Psilocybin Service Initiative would allow for guided psilocybin services to be offered to any adult who wanted to participate within the state.
In California, a group called Decriminalize California is working on a statewide decriminalization effort for 2020. The group tried last year, but did not get enough signatures; this year, however, they say they are right on target on their goal’s timeline.
Iowa Republican Jeff Shipley introduced two psilocybin-focused bills into state legislature in February, although they have not moved much since. One aims to remove the substance from the state’s list of controlled substances, and the other would allow its use in medical settings.
Nationally, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation to allow federally funded scientific research on psychedelics in the treatment of mental health conditions. Currently, these substances are exempt from receipt of funds for this purpose due to their Schedule I drug classification. If this legislation were to pass, the sky is the limit for the possibilities and applications of mental health treatment using entheogens.
It’s hard to know what will happen in the future or how quickly but it seems things are starting to happen and that they will continue to build from here. It’s possible that in coming years, even ibogaine will be approved for addiction treatment in the United States. Currently it is used for that purpose and with much success in Brazil, Gabon, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa, and has conditional approval in other locations for treatment purposes in other countries as well. In time, it seems, the world will become more and more ready for entheogenic treatment of mental health conditions, and people will surely benefit greatly from their experiences.
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