- Efforts to Legalize Psilocybin Just Took a Huge Step Forward Because of an Initiative on the Ballot for Oregon Voters to Consider This November—Oregon Measure 109, the Psilocybin Program Initiative Also Known as “Yes on 109”
- The Beaver State’s Voters Will Decide if Psilocybin Can Be Sold, and Who Can Use it for Their Medical Wellness Issues
While Oregon’s “Yes on 109” campaign is currently the talk of the industry, this is not the first time an entire state has resolved to vote on legalizing psilocybin. Voters in the state of California were set to get their chance to vote on the first step toward legalizing psilocybin this November, with the California Psilocybin Decriminalization Initiative 2020. But that initiative failed in April due to limitations from the pandemic in collecting the half-million signatures required.
Psilocybin getting this far in a state-wide legalization effort in Oregon, has been part of a fast ride for the psychedelics industry over the last year—an industry that has seen more business development and more investor interest than ever before.
This first state-wide initiative for psilocybin legalization mirrors actions in the cannabis industry in terms of lawmaker evolution and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) restrictions.
The cannabis industry first decriminalized possession and legalized medical cannabis state-wide in California in 1996 with Proposition 215. California was the first state ever to attempt to legalize cannabis by initiative in 1972 with Proposition 19 (it failed but got nearly 5 million votes).
While over at the DEA, both cannabis and certain psychedelic drugs—including psilocybin, LSD, peyote, ibogaine and mescaline—are DEA schedule 1 drugs, meaning they have been determined by the U.S. government to be unsafe for medical use.
That DEA scheduling has always hampered true business development for cannabis, affecting banking, tax, insurance, sales, marketing, small business loans, disaster assistance, packaging and more. But some headway is expected soon, perhaps with a new administration or at least a Democrat-controlled Senate.
The cannabis legal brawls and passionate discussions in the House over the last few years are viewed as a good thing for efforts to legalize psychedelics because cannabis has, in effect, “plowed the road” and addressed some of the same obstacles that legalizing psychedelics is facing.
And the psilocybin decriminalization movement is growing anyway; decriminalizing has been shown to be a crucial jumping-off point for legalization.
The pathway to the legalization of psilocybin is matching those early decriminalization moves by cannabis that began in California. Decriminalization of psilocybin happened first in Denver in mid-2019, then Oakland, followed by Santa Cruz early this year.
And, in a significant move for advocates because it’s the first east coast city to get involved with the cause, Washington D.C. voters will vote on psilocybin decriminalization—Initiative 81 “Yes on 81”—this November. That initiative came together from the efforts of the same D.C.-based advocacy group, Decriminalize Nature DC, that pushed through cannabis legalization in the District in 2014 with Initiative 71.
It’s clear that cannabis advocacy work apparently rolls over to psilocybin advocacy.
This newest state-wide psilocybin legalization effort in Oregon comes from one of the country’s staunchest cannabis advocates, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), working to end marijuana prohibition for over 40 years, including getting adult-use cannabis legalized in Oregon in 2014.
Psilocybin legalization is Blumenauer’s fight to win.
In an email message about the measure, Blumenauer wrote that Measure 109 “will offer hope in the form of a breakthrough treatment option in Oregon: psilocybin therapy. Research at America’s top universities shows that psilocybin therapy can help people suffering from depression, anxiety, and addiction. Developed with therapeutic and mental health experts, Measure 109 brings this treatment to Oregon through a licensed, research-based system that supports and protects those in urgent need. I also appreciate that Measure 109 was carefully and responsibly written by therapeutic and mental health experts, with extensive safeguards and supervision by the Oregon Health Authority.”
State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-OR) also supports the measure.
Policymakers believe that the measure has a good chance of passing in Oregon.
It will be presented on the ballot as an initiated state statute that will authorize the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a program to permit licensed service providers to administer psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to individuals 21 years of age or older.
But what is the broader meaning after voters approve? Psilocybin is still stuck as a schedule 1 substance.
That’s in Blumenauer’s wheelhouse, too.
Blumenauer offered, and the House approved an amendment that basically reinforces provisions of the rescinded Cole memo and would ensure that legal cannabis programs in Oregon and dozens of other states, territories, and tribal lands will be protected from Department of Justice intervention. That represented a sort of shot across the bow of the DEA to stand down on any efforts to derail the business of legally selling and profiting from that Schedule 1 drug.
While this was a historic move for the cannabis legalization efforts, it didn’t provide any traction for other cannabis bills— such the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, or the MORE Act, introduced by current vice-presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), which is making its way to a possible historic House vote before the end of this year; and the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019, or the SAFE Banking Act, passed by the House in June 2019 but essentially untouched since then.
Both bills are likely to die in the Senate as long as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is there working as the gatekeeper for any bills brought into the Senate for discussion.
That still leaves pending psychedelic legalization in a good place, with any actions being handled by experienced cannabis advocates, or state legislators who have seen legalized cannabis fill their coffers with tax revenue, or state members of Congress who know that the majority of Americans favor legalizing cannabis and have watched the legalized cannabis industry smoothly (relatively speaking) mature.
What the psychedelics industry has going for it is its use as a medical treatment only, and features button-down qualified psychologists and psychotherapists from such esteemed institutions as Johns Hopkins University working one-on-one with patients in a controlled set and setting. Blumenauer was sure to make multiple references to the medical reasoning behind his measure.
Yes, there is a stigma that lawmakers need to address. But it’s not as entrenched as it was in the 1970s when LSD frightened the straights.
Advocates and lawmakers have found out that the messaging that plays to a decision-making lawmaker is that psilocybin—and other psychedelics— are here to help wean people off of opioids. They are ready to show the results of new therapeutics to treat the rising mental health issues (in part because of the pandemic).
With all of the other distractions during this election year, chances are that neither psilocybin nor cannabis legalization efforts will become a priority in Congress. But stand by. November 3rd may hold some surprises here.