Washington State County Approves Psychedelics Decriminalization Resolution
A Washington State county has become the latest U.S. jurisdiction to locally deprioritize enforcement of laws against psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.
The three members of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to approve a resolution to make enforcement of psychedelics laws among the jurisdiction’s lowest priorities, while also voicing support for state and federal decriminalization.
“I feel like community is the theme for me as a commissioner, and this issue is showing up in spades,” Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said. “I hope that we can be leaders on this horizon—not only in our county, community and in the state—by taking a stand for something that’s right.”
The board held a hearing on an earlier version of the resolution last week, taking testimony from advocates, as well as the county’s sheriff and prosecuting attorney. The law enforcement officials raised concerns about a policy that would restrict them from enforcing state law and also suggested that psychedelics represent a small fraction of cases they handle.
But the board moved forward with a revised resolution nonetheless, recognizing that while they can’t unilaterally decriminalize plant-based medicines that are controlled substances, they can symbolically show where they stand during a time when the issue is receiving significant attention at the state and federal level.
“Some would say this is performative, but I think it’s OK to be putting that stake in the ground, knowing that this is going to transform how a lot of mental health is done,” Commissioner Kate Dean said.
The measure’s “whereas” section states that entheogenic substances have long been held sacred by indigenous communities, and a growing body of research has demonstrated that psychedelics hold significant therapeutic potential in the treatment of mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It says that decriminalization “promotes equitable access by protecting against commercialization and regulatory frameworks that limit access, ensuring that the benefits of entheogens remain accessible to all adult members of the community who can thus pursue their own chosen healing path.”
The resolution also notes that numerous localities across the U.S., including Seattle and Port Townsend in Washington State, have already enacted legislation to deprioritize psychedelics enforcement over recent years.
The resolution says that “while recognizing that changing federal or state laws or penalties is beyond the scope of its authority, the Board of Commissioners wishes to acknowledge the healing potentials of entheogens for its local community and to declare its desire not to expend County resources in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding entheogens.”
The body resolved to support state and federal decriminalization, while also committing to “add to its agenda for the 2024 state legislative session support for full decriminalization of entheogens, including advocating for no regulated legalization of any entheogens without full decriminalization occurring first or within the same legislative session.”
It was further resolved that the board “requests” that law enforcement make psychedelics criminalization among its lowest priorities and that no county resources be used to support such enforcement.
Additionally, the measure encourages county agencies to “develop nuanced and adaptive responses to the use of controlled substances to include harm reduction strategies, recognition of substance use disorder as a public health issue, and to use the criminal justice system as a pathway to treatment and recovery for individuals and to uphold public safety for our communities.”
And it “recommends that federal and state enforcement agencies move towards a decriminalization strategy for adult use of entheogens.”
This action takes place in the background of several relevant drug policy developments in the state, including the recent passage of a bill to create a psilocybin therapy pilot program that was sent to the governor last month.
Neighboring Oregon has also been issuing the state’s first licenses for regulated psilocybin healing centers where adults can receive the psychedelic treatment in a medically supervised environment, which are being established following voter approval of a historic 2020 ballot initiative.
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Lawmakers across the country have pursued psychedelics policy reform this session as the local movement has rapidly expanded over recent years.
For example, a California bill to legalize the possession of certain psychedelics and facilitated use of the substances is heading to the Senate floor under an accelerated process that is allowing it to skip further committee consideration.
The Colorado House of Representatives approved a Senate-passed bill last week to create a regulatory framework for legal psychedelics under a voter-approved initiative.
The Minnesota House recently passed an omnibus health bill that contains provisions to create a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.
Last month, a Republican North Carolina lawmaker and a bipartisan group of cosponsors filed a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.
A Washington State bill to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment is heading to the governor’s desk following final approval in the Senate.
A Nevada Senate committee approved a revised bill last month that would create a new working group to study psychedelics and develop a plan to allow regulated access for therapeutic purposes.
The Hawaii Senate approved a bill last month to create an advisory council to look into possible regulations to provide access to federal “breakthrough therapies” like psilocybin and MDMA.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
A national poll published last month found that a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA.
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.