2020: Psychedelic Reform in Review

2020 was a landmark year for psychedelic reform: one district, two cities, and an entire state passed legislation that decriminalized psychedelics in some way. And two cities that approved similar measures in 2019 have continued making further legislative progress in 2020. Though psychedelics are still federally illegal, these local initiatives are paving the way for full legalization in the future. In this article, we’ll dive into the regulatory details of each location, and what that means for the future of psychedelics. 

Denver, CO 2019 Recap

On May 7th, 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms with the passing of Initiated Ordinance 301, which was approved with 50.64% of votes in favor of the ordinance. This ordinance only applies to psilocybin mushrooms, meaning that other psychedelic compounds are still illegal. 

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Denver, CO in 2020

Initiated Ordinance 301 also created a Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel, the first in the world, who began meeting in 2020. Appointed by the Mayor, members include law enforcement, psilocybin activists, mental health experts, harm reduction specialists, and other city officials. The goal of the panel is to analyze the effects of decriminalization and set policy regarding the implementation of the ordinance, including areas such as law enforcement reporting criteria, integration with existing mental health services, and potential programs to train first responders on harm reduction principles.

And though Initiated Ordinance 301 only applies to Denver, Colorado Springs may be the next municipality to decriminalize psilocybin. In October 2020, Colorado Springs City Council heard testimony from Decriminalize Nature Colorado Springs, an advocacy group highlighting the positive benefits of psychedelic reform. The Colorado Springs City Council President, Richard Skorman, responded favorably, describing how his sister’s participation in a Columbia University psilocybin mushroom study helped her resolve trauma surrounding a life-threatening battle with cancer. Psilocybin activists are pursuing a statewide psilocybin initiative that would most likely appear on the Colorado ballot in 2022. 

Oakland, CA 2019 Recap

On June 5th, 2019, Oakland became the second U.S. city to decriminalize plant- and fungi- based psychedelics with the unanimous passing of a city council resolution “supporting entheogenic plant practices and declaring that the investigation and arrest of individuals involved with the adult use of entheogenic plants on the Federal Schedule 1 list be amongst the lowest priority for the city of Oakland.”

The resolution includes natural psychedelic substances like psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and mescaline. Synthetic psychedelics like LSD, Ketamine, and MDMA are not decriminalized.

Oakland, CA in 2020

In July 2020, Oakland city council reviewed another measure that urges California state policymakers to decriminalize psychedelics as well as give power to local municipalities to allow healing circles involving psychedelic substances. Oakland may also be the first city to establish a framework that regulates the cultivation and sale of psychedelics, with an emphasis on involving local “elders and spiritual leaders” while also attempting to avoid a commercial, profit-driven industry that currently defines legal cannabis. 

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Santa Cruz, CA in 2020

On January 28th, 2020, Santa Cruz became the third U.S. city to decriminalize natural psychedelics with the unanimous passing of a city council resolution “declaring that the investigation and arrest of individuals twenty-one (21) years of age and older involved with the adult personal use and personal possession of entheogenic psychoactive plants and fungi listed on the Federal Schedule 1 list be amongst the lowest priorities for the City of Santa Cruz.”

The resolution “acknowledges that the use of entheogenic plants and fungi for health and spiritual well-being should be done in consultation with, and under the supervision of trained/medical professionals.

The resolution broadly covers “Entheogenic Plants” which are naturally derived from plants and fungi. These substances include psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and mescaline. This means that synthetic psychedelics like LSD, Ketamine, and MDMA are not decriminalized.

And for the rest of the state of California, in November 2020, Sen. Scott Wiener (D) stated that he plans to introduce a statewide decriminalization bill once the legislature returns in early January 2021. Language of the proposal has yet to be released, but Wiener described the reform in a Twitter thread as an “important step toward a more rational, science-based, and public-health-focused approach to drugs.” 

**Update: Sen. Scott Wiener did introduce a bill on February 18, 2021 that proposes to decriminalize psychedelic substances across the entire state of California and expunge criminal records for prior psychedelic possession convictions.**

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Ann Arbor, MI in 2020

On September 21st, 2020 Ann Arbor became the fourth U.S. city to decriminalize psychedelics with the unanimous passing of a city council resolution that declares “the investigation and arrest of persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing Entheogenic Plants or plant compounds which are on the Federal Schedule 1 list shall be the lowest law enforcement priority for the city.”

The resolution broadly covers “Entheogenic Plants” which are naturally derived from plants and fungi. These substances include psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and mescaline. This means that synthetic psychedelics like LSD, Ketamine, and MDMA are not decriminalized.

The major distinction between Ann Arbor and other cities like Oakland, CA; Santa Cruz, CA; and Denver, CO is that a key defunding measure was removed before passing the resolution. The language removed stated that “city funds or resources shall not be used in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants.” What this means is that it is up to the discretion of Ann Arbor law enforcement whether to make arrests for possession of these substances or not. 

However, in January 2021, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Eli Savit, noting his continual support of the decriminalization of entheogenic plants, instituted a policy directive stating that his office will not be pursuing psychedelic possession cases. This is an example of how the efforts of one city can impact drug policy for its surrounding area, in this case, the entire Michigan county of Washtenaw. As more governing agencies and municipalities begin to respond to the initiatives in Ann Arbor, it will clarify whether other Michigan cities (or the entire state) will pursue decriminalization efforts.

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Oregon in 2020

On November 3rd, 2020, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize all federally scheduled substances with the passing of Measure 110, which was approved with 58.46% of votes in favor of the measure. Measure 110 makes personal possession of a controlled substance no more than a Class E violation, resulting in a maximum fine of $100. Previously, the violation would be considered a Class A misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $6,250 fine. This is a paradigm-shifting event because it moves the conversation surrounding drug abuse and addiction from a criminal conversation to a mental health conversation.

Measure 110 also means that all psychedelics are decriminalized in the entire state of Oregon. These substances include psilocybin, ayahuasca, DMT, mescaline, LSD, ketamine, MDMA, MDA, and cannabis.

Also on November 3rd, 2020, Oregon became the first state to approve a therapeutic Psilocybin Services Program with the passing of Measure 109, which was confirmed with 55.75% of votes in favor of the measure. Measure 109 legalizes, regulates and taxes the manufacture, sale, and administration of psilocybin for mental health purposes. Though the program won’t roll out until 2022, it would allow licensed facilities and service providers “to legally manufacture psilocybin products and provide psilocybin services to persons 21 years of age and older,” with services defined as “a preparation session; an administration session; and an integration session.” 

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that the measure would create an Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board that makes recommendations to the Oregon Health Authority on available scientific studies and research on the safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating mental health conditions. It also makes recommendations on the requirements, specifications and guidelines for providing psilocybin services in Oregon. This board would include representatives from diverse backgrounds, including a federally recognized Oregon Indian tribe; the Addiction and Mental Health Planning and Advisory Council; a licensed psychologist; a licensed naturopathic physician; a mycologist; and a person experienced in psilocybin harm reduction, to name a few. 

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Washington D.C. in 2020

On November 3rd, 2020, Washington D.C. decriminalized some psychedelics with the passing of Initiative 81, which was approved with 76.18% of votes in favor of the initiative. The initiative makes “investigation and arrest of adults for non-commercial planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, possessing or engaging in practices with entheogenic plants and fungi among the lowest law enforcement priorities for the District of Columbia.” The initiative also called for the “Attorney General of the District of Columbia and the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to cease prosecution of residents of the District of Columbia” for these activities.

Initiative 81 specifically defines entheogenic plants and fungi as those that contain ibogaine, DMT, mescaline, psilocybin and psilocyn. There is no indication that the surrounding states of Virginia and Maryland will be decriminalizing psychedelics anytime soon. In fact, Maryland congressman Andy Harris made a failed attempt to use congressional budgetary power to block Initiative 81, highlighting the temperament of some local politicians. It is also worth noting that Baltimore, Maryland is the home of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research, pioneering the intersection of psychedelic healing and western medicine. 

The Future of Psychedelic Reform

Psychedelic decriminalization in the nation’s capital at minimum serves as a symbol of the growing sentiment and social acceptance of psychedelics in America. The passing of local psychedelic decriminalization initiatives provides an example framework for other municipalities to follow suit, and some are already benefiting from this momentum. 

In 2020, Vermont, New York, and New Jersey all introduced some form of psychedelic decriminalization bill. In January 2021, the city council of Somerville, Massachusetts unanimously approved a psychedelic decriminalization policy. And as previously mentioned, a statewide California decriminalization bill was introduced in February 2021.

We are excited to see more local municipalities and states decriminalize, and ultimately legalize and regulate all psychedelic substances. These are the same trends that occurred during ongoing cannabis reform, so it’s reasonable to anticipate that psychedelic reform will follow a similar pattern.

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We are trip sitters here to provide you support on your journey. We facilitate ceremonial psychedelic experiences with an emphasis on harm reduction in decriminalized areas. Our mission is to help you harness the healing power of psychedelics to make lasting change in your everyday life, while minimizing the risk of a “bad trip”.

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