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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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NorCal City of Oakland Decriminalizes Psilocybin

Oakland, California, on Tuesday became the second U.S. city to effectively decriminalize magic mushrooms, telling police to look the other way and restricting enforcement of state and federal laws against psychoactive plants.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Telling police to look the other way, and restricting enforcement of state and federal laws against psychoactive plants, Oakland, California, became the second U.S. city on Tuesday to effectively decriminalize magic mushrooms.

After more than an hour of testimony from supporters, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed a resolution decriminalizing the use, possession, distribution and cultivation of psychoactive plants and fungi, including psilocybin (magic mushrooms), ayahuasca and peyote. They were also deemed one of the lowest law enforcement priorities for police.

Denver voters passed a similar measure in May, decriminalizing hallucinogenic mushrooms containing psilocybin.

Psychoactive, or entheogenic, plants and substances derived from them have shown promise in treating treatment-resistant depression, end-of-life anxiety, PTSD and drug addiction, according to research cited by Oakland city staff. Supporters extolled these benefits Tuesday night, recounting struggles to get off heroin and quell rape-related trauma while urging council members to legalize the plants.

"Ibogaine has saved my life," one man told them, referring to a substance derived from the psychoactive Iboga plant of West Africa. "It interrupted addiction in a way that was so profound and so meaningful that I don't know how to describe it to you other than a miracle."

A doctor who practices family medicine said entheogens are more effective than standard addiction treatments.

"It's been said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection," the doctor said. "If there is one thing we know about these sacred plants, it's that they connect. They connect people to their better selves" and to one another.

But another doctor, Steve Lovato, said the medical literature does not support the plants' health claims. He urged the City Council to delay voting until the effects of Denver's initiative are evaluated.

"There's big money behind the movement to legalize mushrooms," Lovato said.

Psychoactive plants remain illegal under state and federal laws, classified as Schedule 1 drugs with no medical value and high potential for abuse. Tuesday's resolution bars the use of city funds and resources in enforcing those laws, but allows police to keep enforcing them.

According to Councilman Loren Taylor, Oakland police agreed to honor the resolution so long as amendments also were passed. Taylor's amendments — hammered out between Oakland police and Decriminalize Nature Oakland, the group behind the resolution — include language prohibiting the commercial sale of entheogens, possession and distribution in schools, and driving under their influence. Guidance for police on how to enforce state and federal laws under the new measure also was approved.

So were amendments governing the "safe and responsible" use of the plants. These include guidelines on how to use them and under what circumstances, and associated risks for those with a family history of schizophrenia or depression.

"While use and possession are not going to be enforced, it doesn't wipe away other laws," Taylor said before the vote. "I felt that was important to include."

Oakland's resolution is not legally binding, and the Alameda County District Attorney can still prosecute users.

Denver decriminalized hallucinogenic mushrooms via a formal ordinance, and the Denver Police Department has promised to abide by it, according to Oakland city staff.

Sale and purchase of psilocybin are still illegal in Denver, but enforcement and prosecution of small amounts have been given the lowest priority.

In addition to mental health benefits, Oakland's resolution cites social equity benefits of decriminalization. Last October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked development and review of drugs containing psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. But Oakland residents were concerned they couldn't afford the expensive drugs or obtain a coveted spot on a clinical trial, so sponsoring Councilman Noel Gallo wrote the resolution to allow growing entheogens at home, as his grandmother did.

"She didn't go to Walgreen's to heal us spiritually and physically," Gallo said Tuesday. "She did it with plants we know as Native Americans."

Categories / Civil Rights, Health

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