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Fourth Michigan City Passes Measure To Decriminalize Psychedelics



Local leaders in the city of Ferndale, Michigan, passed a resolution this week that advocates say decriminalizes psychedelic plants and fungi, including drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and DMT.

Ferndale is the fourth Michigan city to pass such a measure. Detroit, Ann Arbor and Hazel Park have adopted similar policy changes.

Last year activists also took steps to put psychedelics legalization on the statewide ballot, but they ultimately decided to delay the reform campaign and aim for 2024 instead.

While the resolution approved Monday by the Ferndale City Council cannot end Michigan’s statewide prohibition on psychedelics, it makes it the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority” to investigate and arrest people for “planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing” entheogenic plants and fungi.

“City funds or resources shall be prioritized for other City of Ferndale functions,” the measure, sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kat Bruner James, says.

The two-page measure consists mostly of the council’s findings, acknowledging that psychedelic use has been a part of human behavior for thousands of years and recognizing that entheogenic plants “have been shown by scientific and clinical studies and traditional practices to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”

Specifically, the council points to the substances’ potential to treat substance use disorder, trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief, cluster headaches and other conditions.

It also says that decriminalizing the cultivation of cacti that contain mescaline is “critical,” to preserving the currently threatened plants, because “100+ years of continued criminalization has only led to increased scarcity of these cacti in their native habitat.”

The resolution clarifies that the policy shift does not permit the possession or consumption of psychedelics in schools, nor does it allow minors to use the drugs. The city will also continue to enforce bans on commercial sales, driving under the influence and public disturbances, it says.

While major jurisdictions in other states, including Denver, Seattle and San Francisco have taken measures to deprioritize enforcement of laws against psychedelics possession and use, municipalities in Michigan have been especially active.

Not all Michigan cities to consider a decriminalization proposal have adopted it, however. Last May, the East Lansing City Council narrowly rejected a similar resolution, with the mayor and city attorney voicing concerns about possible legal ramifications.

Meanwhile in Grand Rapids last year, lawmakers approved a resolution supporting the decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics. That measure, however, disappointed activists because it didn’t actually change any city enforcement practices, it merely expressed support for future reforms.

Helping spur the action within the state have been local branches of the group Decriminalize Nature. Activists have worked to educate their local lawmakers on the therapeutic potential of entheogenic substances and put forward model legislation for reform.

Billy Horton, of Decriminalize Nature Ferndale, thanked council members for their support on Monday, according to a report by the Detroit Metro Times.

“I just want to continue to emphasize the importance of psychedelic and entheogenic plants and the work that’s going on, the research and the science that’s supporting it for psychological and for physical wellness,” he said, adding that the group would continue to working to educate people on how to use plant medicine safely.

Decriminalize Nature national congratulated the Ferndale chapter on social media this week. “That’s 4 wins in Michigan so far!” the group wrote. “Let’s get some statewide decriminalization legislation on the table!!! Go team Nature!”

At the federal level, meanwhile, substances such as psilocybin and MDMA have been granted breakthrough status as promising medical treatments for mental health. Advocates are also challenging the U.S. government’s classification of psilocybin as a Schedule I drug in a lawsuit being supported by groups like NORML, Reason for Hope, Veteran Mental Health Leadership Coalition, End of Life Washington and Global Wellness Institute, in addition to numerous individual experts.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also faced legal action over its denial of a palliative care doctor’s request to administer psilocybin to his patients under the federal Right to Try Act, which allows patients with terminal conditions to try investigational medications that have not been approved for general use.

DEA is also facing increased political pressure from bipartisan lawmakers, who recently took an extra step to provide additional congressional clarification, filing companion bills in the House and Senate last year to reaffirm that the scope of Right to Try (RTT) should include Schedule I drugs like psilocybin.

The legislation would make a technical amendment to the text of the existing statute, with the primary purpose of clarifying—in the face of DEA objections—that RTT policy as signed into law by former President Donald Trump already means that patients with terminal health conditions can obtain and use investigational drugs that have undergone clinical trials, even if they’re Schedule I controlled substances.

The bills were filed about six months after bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), requesting that DEA allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.

Last year, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) separately pushed top federal officials to provide an update on research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, arguing that ongoing federal prohibition has stymied studies.

In a procedural win for scientists and advocates, DEA last year retreated on a proposed ban on psychedelic compounds that experts say have research value. The development came just one month after the agency abandoned separate plans to place five tryptamine psychedelics in Schedule I.

DEA faced significant criticism over the latter proposal, receiving nearly 600 messages during a public comment period, with most opposing the rule change and requesting a hearing. The agency’s own administrative court subsequently agreed that there was a need to hold a hearing on the matter before the prohibition could be enacted—but DEA pulled the proposal instead.

Separately, DEA has released its final 2023 production quotas for drugs to be used in research—with the agency calling for even more manufacturing of psychedelic compounds like MDMA, psilocyn and 5-MeO-DMT than the existing significant increases it had initially proposed for the current year.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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