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By Erin Ginder-Shaw on

On Tuesday evening, June 4, Oakland’s city council took the first official step toward supporting entheogenic plant practices by voting to adopt a resolution that decriminalizes their use.

The entheogens named include: psilocybin-containing mushrooms; mescaline-containing cacti (such as peyote and san pedro); iboga/ine; and ayahuasca, which contains DMT. As the resolution states:

“This initiative aims to empower the Oakland community by restoring their relationship to nature. The Oakland community behind this initiative believe it is an inalienable right to develop their own relationship with nature, both as a measure of personal liberty and to embrace what it means to be human on Planet Earth.”

The resolution was backed by Decriminalize Nature (DNO), an Oakland based organization whose mission is, “to improve human health and well-being by decriminalizing and expanding access to entheogenic plants and fungi through political and community organizing, education and advocacy.”

When asked about his thoughts on the decriminalization measure passing, Founder of The Third Wave, Paul Austin, said, “This is another domino down in the push to legitimize and integrate psychedelic substances into our culture. The organizations in both Denver and Oakland showed tremendous resolve and ingenuity in leading this important political change. The future looks bright for psychedelic substances.”

More than 100 people attended the meeting on June 4th, and dozens spoke up by telling their stories. Anecdotes ranged from tales of personal transformation to detailed descriptions of how these plants have helped relieve their depression and fear.

Noel Gallo — the councilman who introduced the initiative last month, first to the council’s public safety committee — not only supports the spirit and intention behind the resolution, for him it is also personal. “My grandmother took care of us,” Gallo said in an article published by the San Francisco Chronicle. “She didn’t go to Walgreens to heal us spiritually and physically, she did it out of plants we use as Native Americans.”

While the legal status of these entheogenic plants varies around the world, their usefulness and significance in healing and in spiritual tradition has long been understood and acknowledged. The official position of the United Nations (UN) is that, “No plants are currently controlled under the Conventions. Preparations made from plants containing those active ingredients [listed above: psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine, and DMT] are also not under international control…”

Resolution 18-1790 in Oakland, and Initiated Ordinance I-301 in Denver, which decriminalized the use of psilocybin last month, are substantive legal steps toward legitimizing the significance of these entheogenic plants. Unlike legalization, decriminalization does not directly shift the availability of these substances, nor does it give legal protection to those who cultivate them. It does however, deprioritize, in a legal context, their possession and use among adults.

In other words, as a result of resolution 18-1790, Oakland law enforcement are officially discouraged from spending resources or time investigating or imposing criminal penalties on adults who choose to use these sacred plants. The resolution did not formally change any state or federal laws, but in the eyes of the city, it did shift entheogenic plant use from a criminal act to a civil infraction (think, DUI versus parking ticket).

This may seem like a relatively minor distinction, but its implications and potential ripple effects are consequential. Not only does it open the door for deepened discussions around the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of entheogenic plant practices, it’s also an opportunity for increased education that has the power to broaden our perception of psychedelic use.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that opioid overdoses accounted for over 42,000 deaths, “more than any previous year on record.” If you’ve turned on your car radio, or opened your news app in the last few years you’ve witnessed the scope of this suffering. America is in the throes of the worst addiction epidemic in history. Meanwhile, the war on drugs rages, and on all fronts, relief remains out of reach for those trapped in this vicious cycle.

Written into the text of resolution 18-1790 is the explicit acknowledgement that “scientific studies are demonstrating entheogens can be beneficial for treating conditions such as end-of-life anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, cluster-headaches, PTSD, neurodegeneration, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and treatment resistant depression, as well as reduce rates of intimate partner violence and recidivism.”

Due to the widespread criminalization of the use of these substances, entheogens have long carried a stigma. By decriminalizing, and therefore bringing these powerful, highly beneficial plants into the light, we are not only legitimizing their potential, we are also carving out a space for them in the culture. A space that has the potential to provide a great deal of relief and safety to so many people.

As with marijuana — where 33 states have adopted it legally for medical use, and 10 have legalized both medical and recreational use — these plants remain Schedule 1 substances in the eyes of the federal government. For this, and other, more profound reasons around not wanting to commodify the use of entheogens, “there will be no sales of entheogenic plants and fungi and we [the Decriminalize Nature Organization] will work closely with local communities to share resources.”

Resolutions like this suggest that we have reached a cultural inflection point when it comes to psychedelics. People are eager for viable, healthy ways to heal and grow. Entheogens, like those now officially decriminalized in two major U.S. cities, shed age-old light and hope on these profound and complicated modern problems.

 

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