Push for Psychedelic Reform Begins in California

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Following recent victories in Oregon and Washington, D.C., there are now several efforts underway to decriminalize entheogenic plants for all or parts of the Golden State.

What a trip!

Though the era of the Summer of the Love has long since ended, it appears a new dawn in the story of psychedelics is currently at hand. More specifically, there are multiple efforts underway geared at reforming laws around entheogenic plants.

A term now preferred by advocates, “entheogens” refers to plant-based compounds that, by literal definition, “create the divine within.” More practically speaking, the term refers to mescaline-containing cacti, ayahuasca, psilocybin (aka the magic part of “magic” mushrooms), and other plant-based compounds with the capacity to give humans what amounts to a spiritual experience.

Lumped in with cannabis as controlled substances of varying schedules as a result of the 1971 Controlled Substances Act, entheogens have long served in U.S. culture as an illegal but not entirely pressing concern of law enforcement at large.

Nonetheless, a recent push demanding reform on this front now has California poised to take substantial action. To be fair, the state has already led the way in some regards. In both Santa Cruz and Oakland, advocates for the non-profit Decriminalize Nature have successfully persuaded city council members to vote in favor of locally decriminalizing entheogens.

Now, however, the pace has potentially quickened following landmark successes in Oregon and Washington, D.C. Earlier this month, the Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Initiative was passed by the state’s voters, which will allow adults access to magic mushrooms in a medically supervised setting. At the same time, in Washington D.C., Initiative 81 — which will decriminalize naturally-occurring entheogens — also succeeded.

Compounding these two victories was another win in Oregon for Measure 110, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of any illicit drug. Taken together, they suggest a populace hungry for major reform when it comes to drug policy. That’s in addition to all five state-wide cannabis measures succeeding on Election Night as well.

With so much momentum in the air, it’s perhaps no surprise that the city of San Francisco — and separately, all of California — is now considering options for how to follow suit.

On the local level, Carlos Plazola, national board chair for Decriminalize Nature, told San Francisco Weekly that they had a call scheduled with District Attorney Chesa Boudin to discuss the possibility of decriminalizing entheogens in his jurisdiction.

“We have a call next week with District Attorney [Chesa Boudin],” Plazola said, “in which we hope to do the same thing we recently did in Ann Arbor.”

As I explained earlier this week for SF Weekly:

“The idea is to essentially convince progressive district attorneys to make investigation and prosecution of crimes related to entheogenic plants their city’s lowest law enforcement priority. In September, that’s what Ann Arbor’s City Council in Michigan voted unanimously to do. Citing Boudin’s track record on drug policy reform thus far, Plazola expressed optimism that San Francisco’s newly-appointed DA will be open to a similar arrangement.”

But wait, there’s more!

On the heels of Decriminalize Nature’s announcement, recently re-elected state senator Scott Weiner took to Twitter to say that he’s pursuing a California-wide effort as well.

Reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle, Alexei Koseff detailed the bill Weiner now plans to introduce when the state legislature returns from break.

The bill, which would “[decriminalize] possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms and other psychedelics,” notes Koseff, is actually part of Weiner’s “broader drug policy agenda that also includes measures to legalize safe-injection sites and end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes.”

“The war on drugs has been a disaster, in terms of bloating law enforcement, tearing apart communities, criminalizing addiction and spending enormous amounts of money on prisons,” Wiener told the SF Chronicle. “We need to end the war on drugs. Possession of drugs should just not be a crime.”

What comes next is people deciding the way in which such reform will ultimately occur.

As Plazola pointed out, Oregon’s new law requires a doctor to be present to administer any prescribed magic mushrooms. The issue with such frameworks, as he sees it, is that they fail to consider the numerous community-based modalities that are intertwined with entheogenic plants by mandating a clinical setting.

Thus, instead of working towards outright legalization — which remains the likely outcome for cannabis — some prefer to see entheogens decriminalized but left at that state. For Decriminalize Nature, that’s the way they feel ensures the most access and the least corporate involvement.

“Our intention is to show that these ancient ways of healing are also worthy of supporting,” said Plazola. “We want to establish a baseline approach because it’s the marginalized, unhoused, and minority populations who tend to prefer community-based treatment to a clinic setting.”

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