It’s been almost three months since Denver voters approved a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. And now, the campaign behind that successful initiative is expanding nationally—even globally.
Decriminalize Denver is rebranding as it evolves into SPORE, or the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education. Kevin Matthews, the group’s executive director, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that SPORE is “hub for education” that’s simultaneously “working to educate Denver residents” about implementation of local decriminalization while also serving as “advocates for the national conversation.”
“We recognized that there’s a need for a national advocacy group for psilocybin and other psychedelics, and SPORE is going to fill that space,” he said.
To an extent, SPORE will be sharing that space with Decriminalize Nature, the reform organization that advanced a broad psychedelics decriminalization through the Oakland City Council last month and is working to get a similar resolution approved in Berkeley and other cities. Matthews said the difference between the groups mostly comes down to strategy.
“We’re much more interested in localizing the national psychedelics constituency and really supporting people in other areas where they live—either with messaging or best practices,” he said. “If people are running actual campaigns, [SPORE will be] helping with fundraising, finding donors.”
“It’s great that [Decriminalize Nature] is doing their thing and we’re doing ours—and we’re still figuring out how to work together—but a rising tide raises all ships and the more we can collaborate with each other, that’ll make this movement that much more powerful across the country,” he said.
As SPORE navigates the process of gaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization accreditation—with later plans to obtain 501(c)(4) status to allow lobbying—it’s already started getting the gears turning in a number of jurisdictions. Matthews said that the group is in talks with activists in Arizona, Missouri, Washington, D.C. and even the United Kingdom.
“This is no longer just a national conversation. It’s 100 percent global.”
Unlike their approach in Denver, which had a singular focus on removing criminal penalties for psilocybin alone, SPORE is open to supporting reform efforts that involve all entheogenic substances, including ayahuasca and ibogaine.
But whereas Decriminalize Nature has so far made such comprehensive psychedelics decriminalization the standard for its reform resolutions, SPORE says it plans to take a more strategic and tailored approach, making sure that wherever activists they support are seeking change, it’s within the realm of political possibility.
“I think Oakland might be one of the few places in the country where they could actually decriminalize all entheogens,” Matthews said. “I don’t really believe that’s something that can happen in a lot more places in the country, especially if you’re working directly with city councils.”
“But we don’t want to limit the scope of our work,” he added. “If individuals choose to work with us who are looking at psilocybin and other substances, then that’s great. We just have to make sure that if we’re going to dedicate time and resources to those organizations that they’ve really done their research and they understand the demographic and what’s actually possible.”
SPORE’s localized reform approach will be complemented by efforts to win favor with federal lawmakers, too. Matthews pointed to an amendment introduced this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) aimed at promoting research into psychedelics as evidence that the time is ripe for a national dialogue about the issue.
The measure, despite having been overwhelmingly rejected on the House floor, is “a pretty big deal, and this is the kind of thing where we believe drug policy reform should be at the forefront of public discourse during this election cycle considering that the U.S. government spends billions of dollars every year enforcing the drug war,” he said.
“We know it doesn’t work. We know that a majority of our nation’s inmates have mental health issues and substance abuse issues. They’re not getting the help they need,” Matthews said. “In many ways right now this is a very unique opportunity to start really pressing a national conversation.”
“This mental health and addiction crisis is being ignored by most people… If we have a tool like psilocybin that can be used to directly address this issue and actually get people the help they need—that’s either free or doesn’t cost very much—then I think we should go that route because it’s about saving lives now at this point. It’s imperative that we start to really start to change the hearts and minds of individuals all across the country. We’re in an emergency crisis with this.”
Matthews said that SPORE will likely be heading to the nation’s capital in the next few months to provide information to lawmakers and talk to members of what he dubbed the “Psychedelic Caucus”—the 90 representatives who voted in favor of Ocasio-Cortez’s measure.
“We really have a mission to mobilize this psychedelics constituency and see what kind of magic can happen because the health of our culture is at stake and the health of our society is at stake. And this constituency very specifically I think has a lot more political power than people realize,” he said. “If we can mobilize this group of people to create massive change, massive positive change, then we can see a radical transformation of our culture for the better.”
But in the meantime, SPORE will continue to work with Denver officials to ensure that the measure that sparked this national movement is effectively implemented. That will involve educating the local government and law enforcement and working with Denver on cosponsored “front-facing” public service announcements to raise awareness about psilocybin.
“There’s a lot that’s possible,” Matthews said. “Right now, with the public service announcements on the table and potentially receiving some funding from the city of Denver to get those going, which could mean billboards and ads on the back of transit buses.”
He added that he’s especially excited about the city’s review panel, which is “the only government body of its kind in the U.S. that’s geared specifically towards reviewing and assessing the impact of psilocybin decriminalization and potentially exploring what next steps can be.”
“Our work with the city is really setting a precedent for what this looks like moving forward in the country and we’re excited,” Matthews said. “We have more coming up.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.
Andrew Yang Peddles Marijuana-Themed Presidential Campaign Merchandise
2020 candidate Andrew Yang announced on Saturday that his campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is rolling out a line of marijuana-themed merch.
The limited edition products blend Yang’s love of mathematics with his support for cannabis reform. A t-shirt being offered for $30 simply says, “Math. Money. Marijuana.” And a now-sold-out baseball cap says “Math” on the front and displays a cannabis leaf on back. There’s also a bumper sticker that says, “Legalize Marijuana.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Buttigieg Pledges To Decriminalize Possession Of All Drugs In First Term As President
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a comprehensive plan on Friday that calls for “decriminalizing all drug possession” in his first presidential term as a means to combat the opioid epidemic and treat addiction as a public health, rather than criminal justice, issue.
Decriminalization is just one action the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said he’d pursue in order to reform the country’s mental health care system and bolster substance abuse treatment. His plan also includes proposals to reduce sentences for drug offenses other than possession, increase access to the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone and make it easier to implement syringe exchange programs.
America’s addiction and mental health care crisis has been building for decades—due to decades of neglect by political leaders in Washington. Today, I’m proposing a new approach that tackles this crisis with the urgency and care it deserves. pic.twitter.com/U8F9DXJPC2
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Buttigieg’s “Healing and Belonging in America” plan emphasizes the need to divert people suffering from addiction away from prisons and into treatment. He said he’d accomplish that by expanding diversionary programs and evidence-based training “for drug courts, mental health courts, and other alternatives to incarceration for justice-involved persons.”
The goal of decriminalization and diversion is to reduce “the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75 percent in the first term.”
Our country is in the midst of a mental health and addiction crisis, worsened by decades of stigma and political neglect. I’ll bring a new approach, rooted in commitment and community, to tackle this crisis with the urgency it deserves. https://t.co/spBoh5KH4X
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) August 23, 2019
Under his plan, sentencing reform for drug offenses other than possession would be applied retroactively and coupled with expungements for past convictions. Buttigieg pointed to research demonstrating that “incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths” and instead “actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
“We cannot incarcerate ourselves out of this public health problem.”
“To ensure that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder can heal, we will decriminalize these conditions,” the proposal states. “When someone is undergoing a crisis or is caught using a drug, they should be treated by a health professional rather than punished in a jail cell.”
“All presidential candidates should join Pete Buttigieg in recognizing that the criminalization of people for their drug use is wrong and simply bad policy,” Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Action, said in a press release. “Possession of drugs for personal use is the single most arrested offense in the United States, eclipsing arrest rates for any other offense. With overdose numbers skyrocketing and entire communities, disproportionately black or brown, suffering from criminalization, it’s time for policymakers to shift gears. Taking an evidence-based, health-centered approach to address this crisis is not only true leadership – it’s common sense.”
The mayor also made harm reduction policies a key component of his strategy. He said take-home naloxone programs would be expanded to all 50 states by 2024 and that harm reduction services would be expanded “to reduce overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases related to needle sharing.”
The plan would make naloxone “broadly available in order to reverse overdoses” and remove “legislative and regulatory restrictions on the use of federal funds for syringe service programs.”
Buttigieg said the federal government should provide funding for state and local health departments to purchase the medication, make sure that it’s “available in public spaces and workplaces” similar to first aid kids and encourage “co-prescribing of naloxone with opioids, either by individual physicians or direct dispensing by pharmacists.”
Existing federal law makes it difficult to establish syringe exchange programs, in part because federal funds can’t be used to buy needles. The restrictions “hamper state and local responses, both because they limit resources and because they convey a negative message about the value of these programs, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they can prevent transmission of HIV and hepatitis.”
In addition to lifting those barriers, the candidate said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “would also work with states to remove any criminal liability for those participating in” syringe exchange programs.
“Harm reduction programs are a critical part of any effective response to the opioid and injection drug use crisis. They minimize the negative impact of drug use without encouraging it, while reducing other side effects of drug use. In particular, this means access to syringe service programs for people who inject drugs, that link them to treatment, and provides access to sterile syringes. These programs help prevent transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other infectious diseases associated with needle sharing, and reduce overdoses by deploying medication such as naloxone that help reverse the effects of opioids.”
One harm reduction policy that didn’t make the cut in Buttigieg’s plan is safe injection sites, where people could use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who could reverse overdoses and recommend treatment options. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who are also running for the Democratic nomination, both proposed legalizing such facilities as part of criminal justice reform plans they released this month.
“Decades of failed mental health and addiction policy, coupled with mass incarceration that criminalized mental illness and drug use, have left us with a mental health and addiction care system so broken that today there are more people with serious mental illness in prisons than in treatment facilities,” Buttigieg said.
The candidate also made ending incarceration for drug possession—as well as legalizing marijuana—central principles of his previously released criminal justice reform plan, which he released last month.
But while the prior plan did not explicitly describe the move as “decriminalizing” drugs, even though advocates commonly use that word to refer to policies that remove the threat of being imprisoned for possession, the new document does use that terminology—signaling a shift in clarity as Buttigieg continues to develop his campaign messaging.
In other instances, he borrowed language from his criminal justice reform plan, specifically as it concerns how criminalizing drug use can increase rates of overdose, for his mental health proposal.
“Despite equal rates of use, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for using marijuana,” the criminal justice plan states. “Research shows that incarceration for drug offenses has no effect on drug misuse, drug arrests, or overdose deaths. In fact, some studies show that incarceration actually increases the rate of overdose deaths.”
Buttigieg mentioned that, as with drug offenses, black people are also more likely to die from overdoses. And that’s due to “the current broken system that criminalizes mental illness and addiction” that was “built during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.”
This story was updated to include comment from the Drug Policy Action.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.