Oakland, California, is poised to become the second American city, after Denver, to decriminalize magic mushrooms.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland’s city council was considering a resolution telling police not to investigate or arrest people using the drug, along with other “entheogenic plants,” which are plants containing psychedelic substances traditionally used for spiritual purposes, a category that includes ibogaine and ayahuasca. The first hearing on the topic was scheduled for Tuesday night; a vote could come next month. The resolution had significant support—City Council President Rebecca Kaplan told the Chronicle she backed it—and both Kaplan and Council Member Noel Gallo, who introduced it, said they were swayed by arguments made to them by activists about the ability of shrooms to treat mental health conditions.
If that kind of rhetoric is being taken seriously by politicians, the legalization of psychedelics may be on the brink of becoming a movement with some momentum.
The main group pushing for the legalization of psychedelic plants in the area, Decriminalize Nature Oakland, emphasizes that these drugs can be used for therapeutic purposes. That’s also what activists in California and Oregon have been emphasizing. There’s strong evidence that there could be medical applications for psilocybin, the chemical that makes shrooms more than just a burger topping. People have taken psilocybin to treat everything from OCD to end-of-life despair, and doctors have called on the government to reclassify the drug so it can be studied further and potentially prescribed at some point. Last year, the FDA gave a psilocybin-based treatment for depression the “breakthrough therapy” designation, a tag that could expedite its development.
The decriminalization of mushrooms doesn’t mean we’re on the brink of a world where you can pop into a CVS and get a psilocybin tablet. For one thing, researchers recommend using the drug under the supervision of a doctor. For another, it’s unclear in Denver what decriminalization will actually mean in the long term, especially if selling shrooms remains illegal. Finally, just because voters and politicians in left-wing locales like Denver and Oakland are relatively on board doesn’t mean this battle will get waged—let alone won—on the state and national level.
What’s significant is not the victories of the budding movement but the fact that the ideas appear to be taking root, however slow that process is. Activists seem to be borrowing a page from weed campaigners who emphasized the medical properties of THC and CBD. The idea that these drugs are not just a way for stoners to get high but a medicine may prove to be a powerful argument.
Psychedelic activists have been upfront about their nationwide aims. “Things are starting to roll. We’re getting calls from L.A. and other states in the U.S.,” Carlos Plazola, a co-founder of Decriminalize Nature Oakland, told the Chronicle. Ryan Munevar, the director of Decriminalize California, a statewide organization, recently told the Psychedelic Times that he sees this as part of a long process: “Mushrooms first, and then all the other psychedelics. After that who knows, maybe we will pick even bigger fights in the drug war.”
Full legalization of all psychedelics is a long way away. Psychedelics are still stigmatized, and Denver’s ballot measure was met with a fair amount of chuckling (a Colorado Springs Gazette columnist called the city “Weirdsville”). Researchers, doctors, and politicians will always be more skeptical of drug legalization than activists, who see the drugs as a path to enlightenment and view their criminalization as a deep moral wrong. But more limited measures have been gaining clear support: One recent poll, for instance, found that a majority of Oregonians supported the legalization of medical psilocybin. And as the past month shows, those activists have a toehold in the system they didn’t before.
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