SAN FRANCISCO – First pot, now ‘shrooms. Oakland City Council in California on Tuesday voted unanimously to decriminalize hallucinogenic fungi, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms.”
The vote makes Oakland the second U.S. city to legalize the natural hallucinogens after Denver decriminalized them on May 8.
The city council’s vote directed law enforcement to cease investigating and prosecuting individuals for using or possessing drugs sourced from plants, cacti and – most commonly – mushrooms that contain the hallucinogen psilocybin.
Denver’s historic move last month was the result of a narrowly won popular vote. Oakland’s public safety commission advanced the resolution to the city council last week.
Advocates argued that naturally-occurring drugs such as mushrooms and cacti have been used by various cultures for hundreds of years for everything from spiritual quests to helping battle psychiatric imbalances such as post-traumatic stress syndrome. They say legalizing mushrooms would free law enforcement to tackle higher-priority issues.
Oakland councilman Loren Taylor added several amendments to the resolution offering guidance for users, which were accepted by the council.
They included suggestions that adults who chose to use hallucinogenic fungi begin with very small amounts so that they can see how they react before they use larger amounts. Another was that users seek expert guidance and consider having a trusted friend with them who is sober during their journey.
Prior to the vote, more than 30 people lined up to offer their testimony about the resolution.
Most were supporters, saying that these plant medicines, as they called them, were helpful for trauma, depression, addiction and anxiety. Many described years of addiction and pain before they began using these hallucinogens and found relief.
One speaker was Susana Eager Valadez, director of the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival and Traditional Arts. It supports the people of the Wixárika tribe in Mexico, who use peyote in their religious and cultural ceremonies. She noted that indigenous cultures use hallucinogenic plants in a ritual way, not casually, and are guided by shamans and elders, she said. Americans can learn from their example to create their own rituals.
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“It’s the plants that are going to bring us back to sanity. We’ve got to listen to their message and we’ve got to live reciprocally with nature and restore the natural order,” she said.
Not all those who testified supported decriminalization.
Michael Clarendon, a physician who lives in Oakland, said he had reviewed the medical literature and didn’t believe it supported the broad use of hallucinogenic fungi.
“Indigenous people use mushrooms in controlled rituals, not recreationally,” he said. “The most responsible course for the city council would be to put this on hold to see what happens in Denver and what the response is there,” he said.
Supporters hope the decision will begin a nationwide discussion about decriminalizing plant-based drugs by showing “if you have a progressive city council, things can change quickly,” said Carlos Plazola, director of Decriminalize Nature Oakland, one of the main organizations pushing the initiative.
The resolution was presented by Oakland City Council member Noel Gallo.
“We have many mental challenges on our streets today, and it’s important to be able to freely provide whatever medicinal support we can, including the use of plants that have beneficial effects for thousands of years,” Gallo said.
There are also efforts underway in Oregon to put the decriminalization of mushrooms on that state’s 2020 ballot.
In Iowa, Republican state Rep. Jeff Shipley pushes a mushroom bill in the state’s legislature.
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