Portland, Oregon activists are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics. It’s a move that they say would fill the gap between historic statewide drug policy reform initiatives approved by voters in November.
While those successful ballot measures legalized psilocybin therapy and decriminalized possession of all currently illicit drugs, the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance (PMHA) says the policies leave some important activity at risk of criminalization. The new local resolution they are asking the the City Commission to pass would make it so that activities such as gifting and community-based ceremonies involving entheogenic substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine would be made among Portland’s lowest law enforcement priorities.
PMHA has emphasized the importance of working with indigenous groups to craft the proposal. And that outreach led them to exclude peyote and DMT derived from toads from the measure, as there are sustainability concerns.
The draft resolution would affirm peoples’ “right to cultivate, prepare, possess, or administer entheogenic substances, especially for community healing or a good faith religious or spiritual practice,” according to an overview.
The measure also says that entheogenic plants and fungi “are non-addictive and have been recognized as sacred to human cultures around the world for thousands of years, and continue to be revered and utilized to this day by venerable and sincere religious and spiritual leaders and communities.”
It further points out that a growing body of scientific literature indicates that psychedelics have therapeutic value in the treatment of certain mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Oregon has decriminalized drug possession and legalized psilocybin therapy, the laws “do not allow for home cultivation of entheogens, or for preparing quantities suitable for community healing and religious purposes, which the most economically marginalized, who may not be able to afford therapy otherwise, can benefit from,” PMHA said.
The resolution says that Portland “shall expend no funds or other resources to investigate, arrest, or prosecute individuals solely for engaging in these practices.” It also calls on the state legislature “to support this resolution.”
“PMHA centers its recommendations and efforts in equity—health equity—in that it both facilitates and protects access to healing plants and fungi known to be therapeutically beneficial, but protects the people who work with these plant medicines—those who conserve, grow, harvest, prepare or process and administer these plant medicines-for the benefit of their communities,” Dr. Rachel Knox, a board member of the Portland group who also chairs the Equity Subcommittee of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board, told Marijuana Moment.
“By de-prioritizing, it also begins to pave way for the restitution owed to indigenous communities by whom these entheogens are considered sacred, including the opportunity to elevate our wisdom keepers as leaders and respected stewards in this space,” she said.
This isn’t the first time that local psychedelics reform has been pursued in Portland. Another group, Decriminalize Nature Portland, said last year that it would also be pushing lawmakers to enact a more limited policy change. Activists initially started collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in 2019, but they redirected efforts to target the City Commission. The plan did not come to fruition, however.
“History has proven that punitive drug policies are counterproductive, and have only contributed to overdoses, homelessness, and the ongoing mental health crisis,” Mason Marks, the director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation who also serves on Oregon’s official state advisory board for the psilocybin therapy program, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s time for an evidence-based alternative, and complementing Oregon’s existing measures, that’s what the resolution of the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance provides,” he said.
Portland is far from the only jurisdiction that’s exploring psychedelics reform in the U.S.
For example, nearly one year after the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council voted to decriminalize a wide-range of psychedelics, lawmakers on Monday approved a resolution to officially designate September as Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
Psychedelics reform is also currently advancing in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Easthampton, Massachusetts and Arcata, California.
Other Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change are: Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge. And earlier this month, state lawmakers also heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
Voters in Washington, D.C. approved a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelics in the nation’s capital in November.
For the most part, the burgeoning psychedelics movement has been limited to decriminalization—with the exception of Oregon’s therapeutic psilocybin legalization vote. California activists are also pushing to place psilocybin legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot as a lawmaker works to pass a separate bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics that has already passed the state Senate and two Assembly committees.
All of these latest developments are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.
The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.
Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.
But in a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example
It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Image courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.