Oakland Becomes First US City To Decriminalize All Natural Psychedelics

Psilocybin mushrooms are being studied as a potential treatment for depression. Image: Anitram/Shutterstock

Naturally-occurring hallucinogens such as magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, and certain mescaline-containing cacti have now been effectively decriminalized in Oakland, California after the city council voted unanimously in favor of a radical new resolution.

The motion, which was passed on June 4, states that the city’s police force is to treat the investigation and arrest of adults using these substances as its lowest priority. This new approach applies to all plant-based psychedelics but not to synthetic drugs like LSD or MDMA.

Support for the resolution had been growing after a local community group called Decriminalize Nature Oakland began campaigning for the use of natural psychedelics as treatments for mental health issues. The group’s campaign called on legislators to consider the growing body of scientific research regarding the efficacy of psychedelics as therapeutic adjuncts for depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a range of other conditions.

The exact wording of the resolution refers to the decriminalization of “entheogenic plants”, an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of psychoactive plants that have traditionally been used for spiritual purposes. These include psilocybin-containing mushrooms, which are now being studied as a potential treatment for depression, as well as iboga, which is increasingly being used to facilitate recovery from addiction. Cacti such as peyote, and other plant-based psychedelics like ayahuasca, are also covered by the new ruling.

Council member Noel Gallo introduced the resolution after being inspired by Decriminalize Nature Oakland, and more than 30 people gave testimony before the vote took place, describing their experience with entheogenic plants.

While most of these spoke in favor of the resolution, some urged the authorities to take a more cautious approach. Local physician Michael Clarendon, for example, pointed out that while certain cultures have used psychedelics safely for thousands of years, decriminalization in a Western setting could still lead to abuse.

“Indigenous people use mushrooms in controlled rituals, not recreationally,” he warned.

In an attempt to promote safe practices when using psychedelics, council member Loren Taylor added several amendments to the resolution offering guidance to users. These include a suggestion that people consult a doctor before taking psychedelics for depression or other mental health issues, and that they always start with a small amount in order to gauge a drug’s effects before taking a larger dose.

Oakland is now the second US city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, after Denver. However, the manufacture and sale of these plants remains illegal, as does driving under the influence of psychedelics. Furthermore, because all of these entheogens are Schedule 1 substances, they are still banned under state and federal law. 

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