Oakland, California is taking a step towards becoming the second city in the United States to decriminalize the possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin.
But going even further than a measure recently approved by voters in Denver, the resolution given initial approval on Tuesday also seeks to end criminal penalties for other plant-based psychedelics, including ayahuasca, mescaline and ibogaine.
The City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted—with three ayes and one abstention—to advance to the full Council a measure that would declare enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession of “entheogenic plants” among adults the “lowest priority” for police.
The measure would also seek to block officials from using “any city funds or resources to assist” in enforcing bans on naturally derived psychedelics.
If the resolution sponsored by City Councilmember Noel Gallo is enacted, Oakland would follow Denver—where voters narrowly approved a psilocybin decriminalization measure earlier this month—in declaring its support for allowing adults to possess certain psychedelics without fear of arrest, fines and imprisonment.
The substances—which, like marijuana, remain in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act—would still be illegal under both federal and state laws.
“This is nothing new. These plants have been used for healing for thousands of years,” Gallo told Marijuana Moment before Tuesday’s hearing.
Gallo’s grandmother in Mexico “didn’t go to Walgreen’s” to find medicine, Gallo said—she used herbs from her garden, in keeping with indigenous tradition. And Gallo’s nephew, an Iraq War veteran, also sought healing for post-traumatic stress disorder using psilocybin.
“It made a real difference,” he said.
The lone self-described “downer” vote came from Councilmember Loren Taylor.
Entheogenic plants are “valuable in certain settings, I’m not arguing or contradicting that,” he said. “It’s how we deploy it.”
Taylor expressed worry that psychedelics could “become the fad in schools.”
“It is something that could be taken advantage of,” he said. “That’s the piece for me. I want to make sure we’re thinking through all the implications.”
Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who supported the move to advance decriminalization, criticized the “racist, wasteful and expensive” war on drugs and said it is “long past time” for prohibitionist policies to be challenged.
The resolution will be considered by the full City Council on June 4.
Should the full body approve the measure and Oakland become a successful small-scale test case for psychedelics reform, Gallo expects that advocates working to place a psilocybin decriminalization initiative on the statewide ballot in 2020 will get a boost in their efforts. A previous attempt to qualify a mushroom measure failed to collect a sufficient number of signatures.
If a statewide push to decriminalize plant-based therapeutic hallucinogenics ultimately prevails and the “feds back off,” some kind of legalized access—most likely following a model similar to cannabis, which was grown in nonprofit collectives before it became a commercialized commodity sold by well-capitalized corporations—could follow, Gallo predicted.
Meanwhile, similar efforts to loosen restrictions around access to hallucinogenic plants are already underway elsewhere, including in Oregon, where advocates are currently collecting signatures to qualify a 2020 ballot measure to legalize the medical use of psilocybin and otherwise lower penalties for the substance.
Though the issue appears to have political support in Oakland and is not dissimilar from cannabis legalization, which has broad bipartisan backing even in Congress, most federal lawmakers have thus far proven unwilling to discuss decriminalizing psychedelics.
On Tuesday, more than 60 people signed up to testify at the well-attended Oakland hearing.
“These medicines are safe,” said Gary Kono, a retired surgeon, speaking to the Council. “There is not a single case” showing the plant-based psychedelics cause addiction, he argued. “More people die from taking selfies for social media.”
— Cheryl Hurd (@hurd_hurd) May 29, 2019
In recent years, psychedelic drugs have grown in popularity not only among the constantly innovating Silicon Valley elites—for whom “microdosing,” or ingesting tiny amounts of various drugs in an effort to spark creativity, carries cultural currency—but among a wider mainstream population seeking relief for profound maladies of the consciousness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, addiction and coping with end-of-life scenarios.
Such uses for psychedelic drugs were the focus of a recent book by the author Michael Pollan.
Last fall, researchers at Johns Hopkins University recommended that psilocybin be rescheduled to allow for medical use, suggesting that, when administered in a controlled setting, the drug has potential for treating anxiety, depression and addiction.
As for why psychedelics are enjoying a moment, Carlos Plazola, one of the organizers with Decriminalize Nature Oakland, the advocacy group behind the resolution, offered a few theories.
The spectre of opiate addiction, the existential threat of climate change and the rise of authoritarian governments in former liberal democracies across the world are all crises that may be compelling humans to “connect to nature, and bring back the healing that nature provides,” he told Marijuana Moment before Tuesday’s hearing.
Among all cities in progressive California, Oakland—which has long had some of the most progressive drug laws in the United States—is probably the likeliest candidate for experimentation with psychedelics decriminalization.
Oakland was one of the first cities to allow medical cannabis dispensaries; a stretch of downtown once sported dozens and earned the sobriquet “Oaksterdam,” a name used by the country’s first “cannabis grow college,” also headquartered in Oakland. Sales of recreational cannabis went on in private clubs—with knowledge of Oakland police—after voters passed a lowest-priority ordinance called Measure Z in 2004. And the city has embraced commercial cannabis, with annual sales of the drug at about $100 million a year, according to state sales tax figures recently published by the San Jose Mercury News.
Psychedelic drugs already appear to be a low priority for local law enforcement. Every year in Alameda County, which includes Oakland as well as nearby Berkeley, there are roughly 12 arrests for possession of psychedelic drugs, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Among the dozens of supporters who showed up for the night’s hearing was Ryan Miller, a Marine Corps veteran and medical-cannabis advocate who says he, too, achieved spiritual healing through psychedelic rituals.
For veterans with mental-health issues, cannabis is “an effective palliative treatment,” Miller told Marijuana Moment. “But if we want to get serious about the veteran suicide epidemic, we definitely need access to the stronger plants.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Andrew Yang Contrasts Rampant Opioid Prescribing With Marijuana Criminalization
Andrew Yang contrasted the widespread prescribing of opioids with the ongoing criminalization of marijuana on Wednesday.
In a tweet, the entrepreneur and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said there were “more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio,” yet “marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug” under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
#DidYouKnow – There were more opiate prescriptions in the state of Ohio than people in Ohio. But marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) December 11, 2019
He’s brought that point up before, at a presidential debate in October. Asked about his proposed to decriminalize possession of opioids to combat the drug overdose crisis, Yang brought up the statistic and criticized the government for failing to take action against pharmaceutic companies that aggressively marketed addictive painkillers.
“If the government turned a blind eye to this company, spreading a plague among its people, then the least we can do is put a resource into work in our communities so that people have a fighting chance to get well, even though this is not a money problem,” he said at the time.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) October 16, 2019
NBC News confirmed that, in 2010, federal data shows there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions in Ohio for every 100 persons. That’s decreased since then, with 2017 data showing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in the state.
Yang, who supports comprehensive marijuana legalization, has also embraced other harm reduction policies. Beyond decriminalizing opioids, he said in an interview published last week that he’s in favor of providing federal funding for the establishment of safe injection facilities, where individuals can use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive assistance getting into treatment.
Yang has not yet called for decriminalization of substances beyond opioids and cannabis, however. That policy is backed by rival contenders South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, also presidential candidates, have called for the establishment of safe injection sites.
Photo courtesy of ABC News.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Filed In Virginia Ahead Of Attorney General’s Cannabis Summit
The attorney general of Virginia held a cannabis summit on Wednesday, with representatives of states that have legalized marijuana sharing their insights as lawmakers in the Commonwealth prepare to push reform legislation in the coming session.
This event came one day after a lawmaker prefiled a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and expand the state’s existing limited medical cannabis program.
The event featured panels on marijuana decriminalization, social equity, public health, hemp, CBD and creating a pathway for eventual legalization. The goal was to answer policy questions and inform legislation, which Attorney General Mark Herring (D) hopes will start with decriminalization and expungements and later adult-use legalization.
Herring: “I don’t believe Virginia’s current system of needlessly criminalizing cannabis is working. The negative consequences of the current approach fall disproprtionately on African Americans and other people of color.”
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“I don’t believe that Virginia’s current approach of criminalizing cannabis is working,” Herring said in his opening remarks. “It is needlessly creating criminals and burdening Virginians with convictions.”
Today we're bringing together legislators, stakeholders, and policy experts to plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy in VA. For me, that means decriminalizing now, resolving past convictions, & moving to legal, regulated adult use.https://t.co/aqWxQCVPIg
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) December 11, 2019
“The human and social costs are enormous, in addition to the millions of dollars it costs Virginia taxpayers. And the negative consequences of the current approach fall disproportionately on African Americans and people of color,” he said. “It’s clear to me that the time for cannabis reform has come. Justice demands it. Virginians are demanding it. And I’m going to help make sure we get this right.”
Watch video of the Virginia Cannabis Summit below:
Representatives from Colorado and Illinois discussed law enforcement and equity in regulated marijuana markets.
The prospects of passing reform measures greatly increased in Virginia after November’s election, which saw Democrats reclaim control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in decades. Herring said the timing is right to “plot a course for a smarter, fairer, more just cannabis policy” in the state.
Sen. Dave Marsden (D), co-founder of the legislature’s recently established Cannabis Caucus, said at the summit that ensuring that the legal market is equitable is paramount.
.@SenDaveMarsden, who co-founded the new Cannabis Caucus, says focusing on equity will be important. “We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he says of decriminalization, noting how people of color still impacted most.
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) December 11, 2019
“We can’t substitute a civil process for a criminal one and not expect it to lead to disparities,” he said.
“Following several years of forming consensus around medical cannabis products, we have to be ready to take action in the upcoming legislative session to further reform our laws in this arena,” he said in a press release. “This effort will include a more robust medical cannabis program and Attorney General Herring’s summit is a big step in ensuring we are knowledgeable on the issue and prepared to do this right.”
“Virginia is ready for evidence-based reform and that is what we will provide.”
Del. Stephen Heretick (D) said the summit “is a great opportunity for me and my fellow legislators to learn from the experiences of other states as we consider how to create more fair, just, equitable, and effective cannabis laws here in Virginia.”
Decriminalization is the first proposal on the agenda when the next session starts, the attorney general said. That would fulfill a campaign promise of Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who ran on the issue in 2017 and talked about in his State of the Commonwealth address this year.
“It’s time for public policy to catch up with public opinion, and NORML applauds Attorney General Herring for his efforts to foster and advance evidence-based cannabis laws,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML said. “We look forward to supporting the attorney general and the Virginia Cannabis Caucus in their work reforming marijuana laws for a safer Commonwealth.”
While Northam hasn’t voiced support for recreational legalization, Herring said last week that Wednesday’s summit is one resource that will help the state move toward comprehensive reform.
“Criminalizing marijuana possession is not working.” Attorney General @MarkHerringVA said he will host a #cannabis summit to advance decriminalization in Virginia. #CheddarLive pic.twitter.com/ecB4BSQo5w
— Cheddar (@cheddar) December 3, 2019
“Based on my conversations, he supports decriminalization,” Herring, who is also running for governor in 2021, said. “Like a lot of people, I think they’d like to get more information about what legalization and what regulated, adult-use would look like.”
A bill to decriminalize marijuana and make possession of up to one ounce punishable by a maximum $50 civil penalty was prefiled in the legislature last month.
This latest legalization bill, introduced by Del. Lee Carter (D), will likely be a heavier lift. It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers, and it would impose a 10 percent tax, revenue from which would go toward a veterans fund, transportation and local municipalities that allow marijuana businesses to operate.
“While a majority of Virginians agree with Attorney General Herring that marijuana should be legal for responsible use by adults, it may take a bit more work to convince the Virginia General Assembly to send such a bill to the governor’s desk,” Michelle Pedini told Marijuana Moment. “Todays summit is an important, and historic, step toward that goal, and NORML is proud to be a part of it.”
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.
Thailand Prime Minister Uses Medical Marijuana At Event With Ganja Mascot
Top officials in Thailand are getting the word out about medical marijuana—in part by distributing cartoon cannabis dolls and publicly using marijuana oils.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced the launch of the government’s medical cannabis education site on Wednesday and appeared at an event alongside a person wearing a spectacled marijuana leaf costume called Dr. Ganja. Children were also present, carrying their own Dr. Ganja dolls.
The Thai government officially launches its medical cannabis "educational" website today.https://t.co/zhzZU61q3c
The Prime Minister gets a ganja doll, kids get a ganja doll, everybody gets a ganja doll!
Photo credit: Bhumjaithai Party pic.twitter.com/lVf1WTguqQ
— Prim Chuwiruch (@prim_chuwiruch) December 11, 2019
Prayut argued in favor of the therapeutic use of cannabis, stating that it represents a potential treatment option for low-income people in particular. According to The Nation Thailand, he also demonstrated marijuana products, inhaling an oil and applying some to the back of his ears. The prime minister also said he plans to purchase some oils himself.
The government’s education site features information about where to find cannabis clinics, what kinds of products are available and infographics laying out basic research into marijuana.
Thai lawmakers have made clear their excitement about medical cannabis, with several filmed participating in a ritual dance in August to celebrate the first batch of marijuana oil.
— Reuters Latam (@ReutersLatam) August 8, 2019
Months after Thailand opted to legalize medical marijuana, the ruling party unveiled draft legislation in September that allows individuals to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for personal use.
Photo courtesy of Bhumjaithai Party.