The cutting edge of drug policy reform is no longer cannabis: It’s psychedelics.
Last year, Denver and Oakland became the first jurisdictions in the United States to decriminalize natural psychedelics, including what are commonly known as “magic mushrooms,” as well as other plant-based hallucinogens like peyote and ayahuasca. Similar efforts toward decriminalization of these substances, which advocates point out are non-addictive and research suggests may even have therapeutic benefits, are underway in dozens of cities. The first statewide statute could be adopted in Oregon this November.
Last month, the proponents of IP34, a ballot initiative that would allow the “manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin [the chemical compound in “magic mushrooms”] at supervised, licensed facilities,” turned in more than the necessary petition signatures to get on the ballot, but those signatures are pending verification this summer by the Oregon secretary of state’s office.
The psychedelic decriminalization movement is gaining steam outside of Oregon, too. In Washington, D.C., a campaign to effectively decriminalize the cultivation, possession and purchase of “entheogenic plant and fungi medicines” is still collecting signatures to make it onto the ballot in November. A similar effort in California was tabled due to the coronavirus. And in 2022, it’s likely that at least Colorado voters could also see a psilocybin decriminalization measure on their ballots.
But Oregon’s psychedelic initiative would decriminalize psychedelic use only in clinical settings. The state also has another measure on the table that would decriminalize mushroom possession anywhere—and also possession of most other drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and ecstasy. (Marijuana is already legal in Oregon.) IP44, which is also pending signature verification to be on the ballot this year, would reclassify “personal, non-commercial possession” of drugs listed in Schedule I, II, III or IV of the federal Controlled Substances Act from a felony or misdemeanor to a “violation” deserving of a mere $100 fine.
Critics want to put on the brakes. They argue that the broad decriminalization of drugs is a dangerous venture that would put Oregon on the outer edge of global drug policy—and would remove an important deterrent to substance abuse and experimentation. Advocates argue the plan is more sophisticated than that; it would also establish a system of addiction treatment and recovery centers funded by the state’s multimillion-dollar marijuana tax revenue. The idea, overall, is to move drug use from the realm of crime to the realm of health policy—a longstanding goal of reformers, but one that no American state has yet tried so sweepingly.