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.
Congress Votes To Block Feds From Enforcing Marijuana Laws In Legal States
The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales.
The amendment, which also shields cannabis laws in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories, is now attached to a large-scale appropriations bill to fund parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Watch Live: Congressional Committee Discusses Medical Marijuana And Military Veterans
A congressional committee held a hearing on four bills that concern veterans and medical marijuana on Thursday.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee discussed one piece of legislation that would allow doctors at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue medical cannabis recommendations in states where it’s legal. That bill was introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
The panel also took up a bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) that would require VA to conduct clinical trials on the therapeutic potential of cannabis in the treatment of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.
“The men and women that I meet back home vouch for the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis and support further research into the issue,” Correa said in testimony prepared for the hearing. “The legislation provides a framework for that research to ensure a scientifically-sound study on the issue.”
“Cannabis must be objectively researched. Period,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the committee, said in support of the legislation. “Medicinal cannabis may have the potential to manage chronic pain better than opioids and treat PTSD.”
Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), ranking member on the committee, agreed that VA should be studying the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans but complained that the proposed bill is excessively prescriptive. The congressman, who introduced a similar piece of legislation in January, said lawmakers shouldn’t “be telling the scientists how to design their studies.”
Other legislation that came up for consideration was a bill from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a 2020 presidential candidate, that would provide training on medical cannabis for VA health practitioners.
Finally, the committee heard testimony on another Moulton proposal that would require VA to conduct a survey to “measure cannabis use by veterans.”
Watch the hearing below:
Witnesses who testified before the committee include Adrian Atizado, deputy national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Travis Horr, director of government affairs with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Carlos Fuentes, director of national legislative service for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
The VFW representative said the organization supports all but one of the cannabis bills. While the group agrees with the intent of allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis, it “believe it is unacceptable for VA providers to recommend a treatment that they are unable to provide veterans and force patients to pay for the full cost of such care.”
"VA must expand research on the efficacy of non-traditional alternatives to opioids, such as medicinal cannabis and other holistic approaches. " #VFWTestimony
— VFW National HQ (@VFWHQ) June 20, 2019
DAV voiced support for legislation requiring VA to study medical cannabis and also to survey veterans on their marijuana usage.
“DAV supports @DeptVetAffairs research on conditions related to military service and effective treatments to help #veterans recover, rehabilitate and improve the overall quality of their lives…many veterans report the use of medicinal #cannabis for these purposes is beneficial.” pic.twitter.com/29C9WCw0Di
— DAV National HQ (@DAVHQ) June 20, 2019
And IAVA came out in strong support for the research bill. In testimony, the group said that “without research done by VA surrounding cannabis, veterans will not have conclusive answers to ways cannabis might aide their health needs. This is unacceptable.”
“VA houses some of the most innovative and best-in-class research this country has to offer. It should not be shutting its doors on a potentially effective treatment option because of politics and stigma,” the group said. “Our nation’s veterans deserve better.”
Larry Mole, chief consultant of population health services at the federal Veterans Health Administration, testified that VA opposes all four of the cannabis bills.
He expressed concerns that VA doctors would be penalized if they recommend medical cannabis, that the research requirement would be excessively onerous and that VA is already studying marijuana, that VA doctors already have access to training materials on the subject and that the proposed anonymous survey would require veterans to disclose information that could make them identifiable.
“The legislation would prescriptively define how the surveys would be conducted, but it does not provide the purpose, goals, or objectives for the surveys,” he said. “We have significant concerns that veterans will not want to participate, despite the survey being anonymous.”
Several committee members pressed Mole on VA’s current research efforts, noting the widespread support among veterans to study the medicinal benefits of marijuana.
Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) said that he meets with veteran constituents each week and asked the VA representative, “[w]hat am I to tell them when they ask when is this [research] actually going to happen?”
“When is this research going to occur? When is the VA going to listen to the 92 percent of veterans across all political stripes and ideologies that want to see this done?” he said.
Mole pointed to the single ongoing VA clinical trial that just recently recruited its first participant focusing on the benefits of CBD for post-traumatic stress disorder. He encouraged Levin to tell his constituents to look up the study and apply to participate if they were interested.
Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) characterized the VA’s study as “a baby steps approach” to the issue given that CBD alone isn’t representative of the products that veterans are using in the commercial market.
After the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on several of the cannabis proposals in April, the full committee was set to vote on two marijuana measures last month. That hearing was cancelled, however.
Blumenauer is also pursuing cannabis reform for veterans through a different vehicle: an appropriations bill that’s being debated on the House floor this and next week. He introduced an amendment that would prohibit VA from “interfering with a veteran’s participation in a state medical cannabis program, denying a veteran who participates in a state medical cannabis program from being denied VA services, and interfering with the ability of VA health care providers to recommend participation in state medical cannabis programs.”
This was the second congressional committee hearing on marijuana-related issues this week. On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee met to discuss challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the emerging cannabis industry.
This story has been updated to include additional testimony from witnesses.
House Passes Amendments Stripping DEA Funding And Pushing FDA To Regulate CBD
Two drug policy amendments cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday, building on reform victories in the chamber the day before.
One measure addresses funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the other would direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish regulations for adding CBD to foods and dietary supplements.
The first amendment, introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), would transfer $5 million from the DEA to an opioid treatment program. It passed without opposition on a voice vote and is now be attached to the House version of a large-scale spending bill, but it remains to be seen how the Senate will set funding levels for the agency in its own version of the funding legislation.
“I offer this amendment because ending the war on drugs has to mean changing our priorities in order to keep all communities safe and healthy,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “The best way we do that is by offering people the help and support they need before arrest and criminalization should be considered in the first place.”
She added that the DEA is still receiving $2.36 billion in funding, which is $90 million higher than was appropriated for the last fiscal year. It’s also about $78 million higher than President Trump requested in his budget.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles Justice Department funding, rose in support of the amendment, stating that opioids “are a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of our communities, and we must do everything we can to combat this epidemic.”
Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment that the successful vote “should send a message to the DEA—it’s not business as usual anymore.”
“We want to end the drug war and we will fight for it. We will drain you dollar-by-dollar, cent-by-cent, if that’s what it takes,” he said.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) claimed time designated for the opposition on the floor but said he supports the amendment. The congressman did note, however, that funding for opioid abuse prevention grants has increased by 360 percent since 2017 and that “we want to work with both sides to make sure we have the appropriate funds necessary to make sure we fight this opioid addiction that has taken over so many parts of the country.”
In closing, Ocasio-Cortez said “just as the epidemic is exploding so should our commitment to address this problem.”
“We have overfunded one agency and we should move that to make sure that we are getting people the care they need,” she said.
Dan Riffle, senior counsel and policy advisor in Ocasio-Cortez’s office told Marijuana Moment that the amendment is “a good start, but it’s not enough.”
“Every dollar we waste trying and failing to reduce supply is a dollar that should be spent on treatment and demand reduction,” he said.
This is the second drug policy amendment the freshman congresswoman has introduced that’s been brought to the House floor. However, her earlier proposal, which was meant to lift barriers to research for psychedelic substances such as psilocybin and MDMA, was rejected when it came up for a vote as part of separate appropriations legislation last week.
The FDA amendment, introduced by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), was approved as part of an en bloc voice vote combining other relatively noncontroversial measures and it did not receive debate on the floor. The measure aims to resolve a problem that the FDA has repeatedly raised since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Because CBD exists as an FDA-approved drug and has never been allowed in the food supply before, the agency’s former commissioner said Congress may have to pass separate legislation to provide for its lawful marketing.
The amendment’s description directs FDA to “undertake a process to make lawful a safe level for conventional foods and dietary supplements containing cannabidiol (CBD) so long as the products are compliant with all other FDA rules and regulations.”
Two other drug policy amendments were debated in the chamber on Wednesday. A measure that would block the Justice Department from using its funds to intervene in state marijuana laws was approved on a voice vote but still needs to pass in a recorded vote; another that extends similar protections to tribal cannabis programs passed without a request for a recorded vote.
This story was updated to include comment from Riffle.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.