Oakland, California has become the second U.S. city to decriminalize the adult use of magic mushrooms after Denver did last month. Proponents say it could help treat depression, drug addiction and PTSD. Oakland decriminalized the adult use and possession of psychoactive plants like ayahuasca and peyote, and the second to make the same move for hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The resolution makes the adult use and possession of all entheogenic, or psychoactive, plants and fungi the lowest priority for police. That means, along with psilocybin mushrooms, it applies to cacti like peyote, the shrub iboga that has been used to treat opioid dependence and a variety of plants used to brew ayahuasca, among other things.
Denver voters in May approved a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms for people 21 and older.
Supporters say entheogenic plants have been used to treat depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Entheogenic plants and fungi are tremendous for helping to enable healing, particularly for folks who have experienced trauma in their lives,” said Carlos Plazola, chair of the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Oakland. “These plants are being recommended pretty extensively undercover, underground, by doctors and therapists.”
Oakland’s proposed resolution would make the investigation and arrest of adults who grow, possess, use or distribute entheogenic plants, including magic mushrooms, ayahuasca and peyote, one of the lowest priorities for police. No city funds could be used to enforce laws criminalizing the substances, and the Alameda County District Attorney would stop prosecuting people who have been apprehended for use or possession.
In the last five years, Oakland police have recorded 19 cases of suspected psilocybin mushrooms being submitted to the department’s crime lab, according to testimony from a police official at the council’s public safety committee meeting last Tuesday. The official did not have data available for other plants.
Councilmember Noel Gallo, who introduced the resolution, said decriminalizing such plants would enable Oakland police to focus on serious crime.
Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick declined to comment.
Still, magic mushrooms would remain illegal under both federal and state laws. Entheogenic substances are considered Schedule 1 drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes drugs that have potential for abuse and no medical value.
Skeptics have expressed qualms about the resolution, including Councilmember Loren Taylor, who said it’s important that law enforcement and other community leaders are included in any talks to think through “all possible implications” of the resolution.
“It is something that is valuable in certain settings,” Taylor said at last week’s committee meeting. “It’s a matter of how we deploy it and how we ensure it’s not something that (with) our kids becomes a fad.”
To address such concerns, Gallo said, lawmakers would have to establish rules and regulations about the use of such substances, including what exactly can be used, how to use them and what associated risks are.
Entheogenic plants have long been used in religious and cultural contexts. Gallo remembers his grandmother treating his family members with plants, including entheogenic ones, for a variety of ailments.
“Growing up in the Mexican community, this was our cure,” Gallo said. Hemp oils, mushrooms and yerba buenas — an aromatic plant known for its medicinal properties — “that was our Walgreens. We didn’t have a Walgreens. We didn’t have a way to pay for any drugs. These are plants we have known for thousands of years in our community and that we continue to use.”
Julie Megler, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who spoke in support of the proposal at last week’s meeting, said it could also help people who lack the funds for traditional prescription drugs.
“I believe that the medical model is important, but is limited in the number of people that can access its care,” she said.
Another supporter with Decriminalize Oakland, Gary Kono, identified himself as a retired surgeon. He admitted there is some risk associated with the plants and fungi, “but more people die from taking selfies for their social media than from all of our entheogens combined.”
Tuesday’s vote would be the final on the measure. The council’s public safety committee advanced it last week.