The Oakland City Council unanimously passed a resolution last week effectively decriminalizing the adult use of hallucinogens derived from plants or fungi, including entheogenic mushrooms and the psychoactive alkaloids found in the peyote cactus.
The lawmakers agreed to prohibit city money from being used “to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties” against individuals who possess, cultivate, or ingest several plant-based mind-altering substances, which are still illegal under federal and state law. The new citywide policy does not apply to synthetic psychedelics, such as LSD and ecstasy.
Opponents say the change will encourage people to partake in potentially harmful activity. However, advocates argue that hallucinogens have creative and therapeutic benefits and could be used to treat addictions and mental disorders.
The measure was introduced by Councilman Noel Gallo who, according to CNN, descends from a Native American family. He reportedly told the network that he was familiar with natural psychedelics as a youth growing up in Oakland.
“These plants have been in use for thousands of years, not only spiritually, but also health-wise,” Gallo explained, referencing Indigenous cultures that used hallucinogens as part of religious rituals. “(My grandmother) was a curandero (healer) in Mexico and she didn’t go to Walgreens to get her medication, they grew it in their backyards, and that is how we healed each other for thousands of years.”
He said “there will be no sales of entheogenic plants and fungi,” adding that the hallucinogens might be shared in collectives in the future.
Councilman Loren Taylor added several amendments to the ordinance offering guidance to users, which included cautioning those who experiment with hallucinatory drugs to begin with small amounts and have a trusted friend present.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “though there are rarely any arrests in Oakland over the use of psychedelic plants, Gallo said the resolution is a step toward legitimizing use of the plants for medicinal purposes.”
The outlet went on to describe the Oakland initiative as “part of a wave of decriminalization efforts nationwide,” as similar drives are taking place in Oregon, Iowa, and elsewhere in the country. Oakland became the second city in the United States to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms after Denver voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative a month ago. Some advocates refer to the phenomenon as a “psychedelic renaissance.”
The concept of using natural psychedelics for medical reasons has seen a resurgence of interest in recent years, including from mainstream research institutions that for decades had avoided study of hallucinogens after they were roundly maligned in the 1960s and ‘70s…
As with cannabis, the first steps are in deprioritizing enforcement of federal laws on psychedelic use. After that, it’s unclear what the path toward legalization will look like for psychedelics, assuming that’s the agreed-upon end goal. Few people want, or expect, psychedelic dispensaries to pop up next door to cannabis shops.
What advocates are pushing for now is safe access to drugs that are increasingly seen as potentially “paradigm-shifting” therapies for a host of mental health issues, from post-traumatic stress and depression to end-of-life despair and addiction.
“Things are starting to roll. We’re getting calls from L.A. and other states in the U.S.,” said Carlos Plazola, a co-founder of Decriminalize Nature Oakland (DNO), the group behind the Oakland resolution. “There’s an international movement.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, DNO started discussions in the community in early 2019, holding its first public education event in March.
“If you have a progressive city council, things can change quickly,” Plazola said.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.