It’s no secret that 2021 is already a high point for drug reforms. Earlier this month, the state of Oregon in the U.S. became the first in the world to decriminalise the possession of all drugs, while Washington D.C. is slated to be the second.
Even beyond the legal front, an overwhelming amount of research affirms the myriad benefits that psychedelic-assisted therapy can have for mental health. Today, we have companies testing out less harmful alternatives to traditional psychedelics, organising ketamine retreats to fuse mind-expanding bonds between co-workers, and even exploring how tripping on MDMA can be used to treat PTSD.
Given that the tide is turning in favour of a future where psychedelics could be a miracle cure, it’s only fitting that new professions surrounding the industry are popping up. At least that’s the case for Dustin Robinson, the co-founder of non-profit organisation Mr Psychedelic Law that advocates for responsible legal reform of psilocybin mushrooms and other psychedelics.
Robinson, an attorney specialising in laws around cannabis and psychedelics, first established himself as “Mr Cannabis Law”, working with clients across the U.S. to facilitate deals to grow and sell marijuana for both recreational and medicinal purposes. But sometime last year, the legal eagle ventured into the psychedelic industry, and went on to advocate for Oregon’s recent decriminalisation.
VICE chatted with Robinson to understand more about the legal aspects of the psychedelic research industry, whether he gets high in the name of research, and what the future holds for hallucinogens.
VICE: How did you become a “psychedelic lawyer” when that term didn’t even exist?
Dustin Robinson: While there have been lawyers like Noah Potter, who specialises in psychedelic law, I’m probably the first to challenge the status quo on this scale. I co-founded Mr Psychedelic Law, along with Dr Michele Weiner who does ketamine therapy, with the mission to drive legal reform for psychedelics. We also built a medical advisory board and spiritual advisory board around it. My job basically is to consult with medical practitioners and attorneys on any of the resolutions or bills regarding psychedelics.
I hadn’t tried a psychedelic until 2020, so my friends actually found it funny that I’m at the forefront of its legal reform. My story is that at first, I had a cannabis client who wanted to grow and research magic mushrooms in Jamaica. I knew nothing about it at the time, so I turned him down.
Then I had another client who wanted to do a mushroom retreat out in Brazil, and once again, I was like I’m sticking to cannabis. But once I started thinking about it, I reached out to the doctors I represent in the cannabis industry in Florida and they started sending me articles and clinical research on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. A couple of them were also doing psychedelic-assisted therapy using ketamine, so my background really came from the doctors who assisted me.
What attracted you to psychedelics?
I’ve always been a big proponent of individual rights, and there’s nothing more fundamental than what you want your individual right with a product of nature to be. So, it was a platform for me to do what I believed in. I also had experience in law, accounting and real estate as well as business experience, so I had the required skill set to understand how cannabis or psychedelic laws interplay with other laws.
So does the job involve trying out psychedelics too to know what you’re actually fighting for?
I gained an initial education through the doctors I was working with. But finally, last February, I took magic mushrooms and it totally changed my mind. I was curious to explore it because I felt like I had to in order to truly understand what I was advocating for. For me, it was basically R&D!
I’m very into health and wellness. I work out, take care of myself and am very careful of what I put in my body. So previously, I’ve always viewed psychedelics with the stigma that they’re bad for you, that they weaken your mind or that they make you delusional. But it was the complete opposite for me when I finally tried it. It felt like my brain was on fire, my problem solving skills and awareness were heightened, and I was able to absorb more of reality. I went into it thinking I would see a distortion of reality, but it actually opens up your mind to see more of reality. Obviously, there are different types of dosages and different things can happen, but from a moral perspective, that’s where I really got super excited about it. My experience combined with the science and research out there made me realise these could be transformational substances that can really change mental health in this world.
Do you get to get high with your clients?
A lot of young people think of what I do as this super glamorous job, but ultimately it’s all about things like doing legal research and drafting contracts. But what probably sets my job apart is that I’ve gotten to work with some amazing clients, and learn so much about the future of the cannabis and psychedelic industries from them.
Who are some of these clients?
One of my most interesting clients has to be Zappy, who founded a non-profit company called Mind Army, which is working towards descheduling of psychedelics at a federal level [in the U.S.].
Another one is a group called NANA Heals based out of Florida. It’s a company run by Florencia Bollini, who has been a shaman for ten years. Her concept is that females are best situated to be shamans, because they have that natural caregiver or motherly instinct. So she’s basically creating a network of nanas or female shamans that help guide people on their psychedelic journey. I’m currently working with them to sort out legal clearances for a group ketamine assisted therapy session at a high-end hotel in Florida. So what I’m working on is the legal framework and the documentation to ensure that we’re doing this in a legal manner.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a psychedelic lawyer?
I’m all about safety and making sure things are done correctly. I don’t ever want anyone to get hurt. I’m not a doctor but I’m dealing with people who have been around these substances for a lot longer than I have. So sometimes, I don’t know what my comfort level is in terms of safety levels, because I’m obviously not an expert or a medical practitioner.
I can look at the legal side of it and make sure we’re being legally compliant, but I can’t look at the medical aspects to say group ketamine therapy in this setting is a positive thing. So I struggle to really make myself understand the safety profile of everything we’re working on.
What has been the highest point of your career?
Every day, I get higher and higher (laughs).
I think an important milestone for me has been filing a bill in Florida, through state representative Michael Grieco, for legalisation of psilocybin entheogenic plant decriminalization. We obviously have a long way to go, but the fact that we’ve started the conversation on psychedelics, including what the framework for legalisation should look like, in a conservative state like Florida, is a big moment. It essentially put the state on the psychedelic map.
What’s the scope of this job outside of the U.S.?
I’m only barred in Florida, but when I work at an international level, I have a network of attorneys I team up with. We have many clients who import and export cannabis and psychedelics from other countries.
I do see tremendous potential and I want to help people globally, but there are some other entrepreneurial ventures that I’m working on. I think Uruguay is a liberal country with major potential for import and export.
In fact, I feel like 70 percent of the psychedelic companies I’m talking to are outside of the U.S. including Canada, Israel, and the U.K., which are undertaking psychedelic research. Then there’s also countries like Jamaica, Peru, Brazil and the Netherlands, because many plants like psychedelic truffles, ayahuasca or peyote are naturally available there.
Law usually always has loopholes that can be exploited for the good or bad. Is this true for the existing psychedelic law as well?
One of the most interesting loopholes on the psychedelic side is that in the Netherlands, they allowed magic truffles to be sold while magic mushrooms remain illegal.
Another one in the psychedelic industry that often causes confusion is based on a Florida Supreme Court case from 1970. Someone got pulled over with mushrooms, but essentially the state couldn’t prove that he had the intent or the knowledge that these mushrooms contain psilocybin. Essentially, in Florida, magic mushrooms are not listed as illegal; it’s the psilocybin that is illegal. This is often misinterpreted but to clarify: it doesn’t make magic mushroom legal, but if you just pick magic mushrooms and they can’t prove that you knew they had psilocybin, you could probably get away.
What is the future of the psychedelics industry, according to you?
In contrast to an industry like cannabis, which is treated more as a consumer product and driven largely by the adult or recreational use of it, the psychedelic movement is mainly driven by the science, the research and the pharmaceutical industry to help serious mental health conditions. So I feel like the psychedelic framework is moving more towards the FDA path. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for people having the individual right to access psilocybin, in their own spiritual way, but as a whole, I think the industry is being driven by science and medicine.