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.
New York And Connecticut Governors Talk Marijuana Legalization On Fishing Trip
The governors of New York and Connecticut went fishing and talked about marijuana legalization on Tuesday.
The conversation comes after lawmakers in both states were unable to pass legalization legislation before their respective sessions’ ends this year, despite having the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
“We talked about policy issues like the marijuana issue, which is obviously also relevant to contiguous states,” Cuomo said at a press conference following the fishing trip. “What Connecticut does on marijuana is relevant to New York, what New York does is relevant to Connecticut so we talked about that and a lot of issues. So we had fun.”
Watch Cuomo’s marijuana comments at about 5:00 into the video below:
Cuomo had described legalization as a top legislative priority for 2019 and included it in his state budget proposal. But after months of negotiations with lawmakers, the plan fell through, due in part to disagreements about how to allocate tax revenue and whether to allow individual jurisdictions to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses.
The governor did sign legislation in July that expands the state’s marijuana decriminalization policy and provides a pathway for expungements of past marijuana convictions.
Over in Connecticut, Lamont campaigned on legalization during his election bid last year and described it as one of his administration’s “priorities” after he took office. But as with neighboring New York, the legislature failed to advance a legalization bill beside multiple successful committee votes and hearings throughout the year.
The specifics of what the governors talked about during their fishing expedition on Lake Ontario aren’t clear, but both are presumably gearing up for another round of legislative efforts marijuana over the coming year and could take lessons from each other as reform talks continue.
Another East Coast state, New Jersey, has also struggled to move legalization legislation forward, with lawmakers saying that the issue should be taken up by voters in 2020 rather than pushed through the legislature, though there has been discussion lately about another try at moving a bill before year’s end. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) did sign a decriminalization and expungements bill in May, however.
Photo courtesy of CBS 6.
GOP Congressman Will Meet Attorney General To Discuss Expanding Marijuana Research
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said on Monday that he will soon be speaking with the U.S. attorney general about expanding marijuana research.
The congressman, a close ally of President Trump, is a vocal proponent of medical cannabis and has argued that the federal drug scheduling system is hampering research into the plant’s therapeutic potential.
“I will be meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr in the coming weeks to discuss the Department of Justice’s approach to unlocking more research grants so that we can have American innovation applied to our health care in a way that can get people off of some of these devastating opioids and painkillers, and on to a more natural product,” he said following a radio town hall event.
Even under the framework of prohibition, the Justice Department is able to promote research by, for example, approving additional marijuana manufacturers—something the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it would do three years ago.
Barr has voiced support for expanding the number of federally authorized cannabis manufacturers.
“I think we’re going to move forward on it,” the attorney general said in April. “I think it’s very important to get those additional suppliers.”
Earlier this year, Gaetz joined congressional colleagues in leading a letter addressed to Barr and the head of DEA expressing frustration that the Justice Department has declined to take action despite its pledges. The lawmakers implored DEA to “do whatever you can to speed up and improve the research application process.”
Gaetz also introduced legislation that would force DEA to approve additional facilities to produce research-grade cannabis. A version filed last year cleared the Judiciary Committee in a voice vote, and he reintroduced the bill in January but it has not yet been acted upon.
Listen to Gaetz’s new cannabis comments, about 1:20 into the audio below:
DEA is facing two lawsuits regarding its approach to marijuana, including one that concerns the lack of diversity of research-grade cannabis since only one manufacture is currently authorized. The agency was ordered to respond to the suit by August 28.
Separately, a group of patients and advocates sued DEA over marijuana’s Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act, with a federal court directing the agency to “promptly” consider reclassifying cannabis.
Gaetz also spoke about the need to more broadly reform cannabis laws during the Monday remarks.
“The federal government listing marijuana as a Schedule I drug impairs financial transactions, it impairs research and it stops us from being able to unlock cures for some of America’s most vulnerable people,” the congressman said, adding that he’s a cosponsor of legislation that would deschedule marijuana that was introduced by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY).
Gaetz, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he is requesting that the panel hold a hearing on cannabis legislation. That’d mark the second such meeting after a Judiciary subcommittee convened last month to discuss paths to ending federal prohibition.
The congressman’s staff wasn’t able to provide Marijuana Moment with additional details regarding the meeting with Barr.
Photo courtesy of Meredith Geddings.
Elizabeth Warren’s Criminal Justice Plan Involves Legalizing Marijuana And Safe Injection Sites
Legalizing marijuana, granting clemency to people convicted of drug offenses and investing in harm reduction programs such as safe injection sites are part of a criminal justice reform plan that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released on Tuesday.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate stressed that the war on drugs has been carried out in a racially discriminatory manner, writing that it’s unfair that “a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail, while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus. It’s long past time for us to reform our system.”
“This failure [of the drug war] has been particularly harmful for communities of color, and we need a new approach,” she said. “It starts with legalizing marijuana and erasing past convictions, and then eliminating the remaining disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.”
What’s more, the drug war “has criminalized addiction, ripped apart families—and largely failed to curb drug use” when a more effective system would treat addiction as a public health issue.
Next, we have to rethink what we choose to criminalize. That starts with repealing the 1994 crime bill—the bulk of which needs to go—and legalizing marijuana. Overcriminalization has filled prisons and devastated communities—and it's time for it to end.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
That includes diverting people who’ve been convicted of non-violent drug offenses to treatment programs and providing evidence-based resources for people suffering from addiction. For example, Warren’s plan calls for safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can help prevent fatal overdoses and get people into treatment. She also said needle exchange programs and expanding access to buprenorphine would reduce the opioid crisis.
“Instead of locking up people for nonviolent marijuana crimes, I’ve proposed putting pharmaceutical executives on the hook to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that damage the lives of millions.”
She also called for the abolition of certain mandatory minimum sentences and said that “people who struggle with addiction should not be incarcerated because of their disease.”
“Mass incarceration has not reduced addiction rates or overdose deaths, because substance abuse disorder is a public health problem — and it’s long past time to treat it that way,” the plan says. “We know that diversion programs are both more humane and a better investment than incarceration — for every dollar we invest in treatment programs, we can save $12 in future crime and health care costs.”
“And rather than incarcerating individuals with substance abuse disorders, we should expand options that divert them into programs that provide real treatment.”
Like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Warren’s criminal justice reform proposal also mentions executive actions she could unilaterally take.
Specifically, she wrote that the Justice Department should not hold authority to make clemency recommendations and it should instead be left up to an independent clemency board so that those eligible for a pardons and commutations are more quickly identified.
The president can grant clemency and pardons herself. I'll empower a clemency board to make recommendations directly to the White House, identifying broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, such as those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 20, 2019
“I’ll direct the board to identify broad classes of potentially-deserving individuals for review, including those who would have benefited from retroactivity under the First Step Act, individuals who are jailed under outdated or discriminatory drug laws, or those serving mandatory minimums that should be abolished,” she said.
The plan’s unveiling comes two days after Sanders released his criminal justice reform proposal, which also called for marijuana legalization and the implementation of harm reduction policies such as safe consumption facilities.
Buttigieg’s plan stands out from his fellow Democratic candidates in at least one regard: the mayor said drug possession should broadly be decriminalized.
Warren also released a separate plan for Indian tribes last week that involves protecting tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
Photo courtesy of Edward Kimmel.