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Local Leaders In Washington’s Capital City Weigh Psychedelics Decriminalization Proposal



Local leaders in Olympia, Washington are considering a resolution that would direct law enforcement to make the prohibition of psilocybin and other psychedelic substances a low enforcement priority, with a public hearing on the proposal expected in coming weeks.

The City Council is currently weighing a measure from Councilmember Clark Gilman that would declare “that the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen-related activities, including but not limited to the cultivation of entheogens for use in religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices, should be a City of Olympia low enforcement priority.”

The resolution, brought before the council last month, further states that “no city funds or resources should be for investigation, prosecution, and arrest of individuals solely for entheogenic plants and fungi.” It also expresses the city’s “support for the full decriminalization of these activities at the state and federal level.”

“Olympians understand that decriminalizing plants and mushrooms can help our community with healing,” Gilman wrote in his request that city staff draft the measure, adding that the substances can facilitate “personal and spiritual development that is both ethical and effective.”

“It is time for the city of Olympia to join cities across the nation and the state of Oregon in decriminalizing entheogenic substances,” the referral says, “including psilocybin and other fungal and plant-based medicines, which are shown to assist in the treatment of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.”

The move is backed by the group Decriminalize Nature Olympia, which began advocating for the change in earnest last year, said organizer Ekaterina Henyan.

“We are currently preparing for the upcoming public comment forums, where individuals will have two minutes each to share their impactful stories and perspectives,” she said in an email to Marijuana Moment. “This is a crucial time for us, and we feel very positive about the progress we’ve made.”

“We anticipate that the resolution will be included on the agenda following continued education and community advocacy,” Henyan added. “To this end, we plan to participate in the upcoming public comment hearings on July 9th, July 16th and August 13th. Our hope is that this monumental decision will be finalized in time for August’s Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Fellow Councilmembers Dani Madrone and Robert Vanderpool support the plan, based on a staff report about the proposal. But two other councilmembers expressed hesitation at last month’s meeting, according to local reports in The Olympian.

“I’d hate to tie the hands of our police department,” said Councilmember Lisa Parshley, who said she thought psychedelics possession should be charged as a low-level misdemeanor to dissuade abuse and self-medication. “I do worry—and I’m of the age, eight Grateful Dead concerts—that I do know that it’s an extreme potential.”

Mayor Pro Tem Yến Huỳnh, meanwhile, said she initially was against the proposal but has been rethinking that reaction.

“There is an opportunity for me to check my own biases with this one, because I will tell you, I did not like it,” Huỳnh said. “I thought, ‘What? Mushrooms? What are we doing with that? Why now? We have enough things on our plate.”

A draft of the resolution introduced last month references the growing scientific and medical understanding of psychedelics, noting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted breakthrough therapy status to psilocybin for treatment-resistant major depressive disorder.

“Depression, severe anxiety, problematic substance use, post-traumatic stress, end-of-life anxiety, grief, intergenerational trauma, and other physical and mental conditions are plaguing many communities,” it says, “and scientific and clinical studies show the benefits of entheogens in treating these conditions.”

It also acknowledges that other Washington jurisdictions—including Seattle, Port Townsend and Jefferson County—as well as Colorado, Oregon and Washington, D.C. “have decriminalized some or all entheogens through successful ballot initiatives.”

Gilman declined to comment at length about the proposal, telling Marijuana Moment he’d be happy to talk more “once we have a little more set in motion.”

“We’ve just had a two week Council recess so I’m just returning to advocating for the measure and coordinating with our staff,” he said in an email on Monday.

Henyan, at Decriminalize Nature Olympia, said advocates have so far been pleased with the pace of the process.

“We are thrilled with our progress,” she said, “especially considering that just a year ago, we sent our first email inquiring about this significant change.”

Olympia, Washington’s capital city, is one of at least six municipalities across the state where activists set out late last year to pass psychedelics reform at the local level. Organizers told Marijuana Moment at the time that the grassroots strategy was inspired in part by municipal psychedelics reform in cities across Massachusetts—a movement that now aims to put a statewide psychedelics legalization initiative on the 2024 ballot.

Advocates in Olympia and other Washington cities are also hoping that momentum at the municipal level will help grow support for statewide reform.

It’s not yet clear when Olympia leaders will act on the decriminalization proposal. A staff report says officials have requested a review by the Olympia Police Department and the city prosecutor as well as a report from city staff “describing what the City is doing related to mental health and substance use disorder treatment.”

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for July 9, but an agenda has not yet been released.

Sponsor Gilman did not immediately respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for comment.

The proposal comes as more governmental and public health organizations acknowledge the negative impacts of the drug war and encourage an approach based more on harm reduction.

For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) has now formally endorsed drug decriminalization, adopting the policy position last month at its annual meeting. The body is calling for the “elimination of criminal penalties for drug possession for personal use as part of a larger set of related public health and legal reforms designed to improve carefully selected outcomes.”

AMA also recommended adopting a policy supporting “federal and state efforts to expunge, at no cost to the individual, criminal records for drug possession for personal use upon completion of a sentence or penalty.”

Dozens of United Nations (UN) human rights experts have also called for a less-punitive approach to global drug policies, urging member nations last month to focus less on punishment and criminalization and more on harm reduction and public health while specifically calling for “decriminalisation of drug use and related activities, and the responsible regulation of all drugs to eliminate profits from illegal trafficking, criminality and violence.”

And a recent report from the RAND Corporation urged that “now is the time” for federal policymakers to decide how to regulate psilocybin and other substances.

Both the RAND report and a separate study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), meanwhile, also indicate growing interest in microdosing psychedelics.

While researchers in the JAMA study noted that federal prohibition means unsanctioned use of the psychedelic could pose risks to consumers, another federal agency recently acknowledged the potential benefits the substance might provide—including for treatment of alcohol use disorder, anxiety and depression. It also noted psilocybin research being funded by the federal government into the drug’s effects on pain, migraines, psychiatric disorders and various other conditions.

‘Now Is The Time’ For The Feds To Shape Psychedelics Policy, RAND Corporation Report Says

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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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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