Users of illegal ‘magical mushrooms’ could get a pass in Oakland

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The city council will vote June 4 whether to bar police from enforcing cracking down on psychedelic plants

Oakland City Hall is photographed in Oakland Dec. 1, 2015.

OAKLAND — Oakland could become the second city in the nation to allow the use of psilocybin mushrooms — also known as “magic mushrooms” — following in Denver’s footsteps.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider approving a resolution barring police from enforcing laws banning the use of “entheogenic” — or psychoactive — plants, which include psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and peyote.

The proposed resolution stems from a movement at the state level to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, which suffered a setback when a measure to accomplish that goal didn’t make it to California’s 2018 ballot. Activists are gathering signatures now to put a measure on the Oregon state ballot next year to legalize the medical use of psilocybin.

Three of the four council members who make up Oakland’s public safety committee voted Tuesday to move the resolution to the full council for a vote. Supporters of the effort packed City Hall, and around 60 people — many of them psychiatrists — testified to the benefits of entheogenic plants.

“I’ve seen first-hand how these plants can heal individuals, and I really want to emphasize that these plants can also heal a community,” said Gary Kono, a retired surgeon who co-founded  Decriminalize Nature Oakland, an activist group leading the effort to legalize entheogenic plants in the city.

Council member Noel Gallo, who brought the resolution forward, said in his proposal that allowing the use of entheogenic plants would remove them from their underground status and “empower communities to share knowledge and continue building an above-ground infrastructure around entheogens.”

Oakland, he added in his proposal, “has a unique opportunity to lead by example, and guide the nationwide conversation.”

The resolution would not apply to synthetic drugs such as LSD or Ecstasy.

Larry Norris of Decriminalize Nature Oakland said in an interview that the initiatives in Oregon and Denver prompted the group to push for the resolution. It started discussing the proposal in December and pitched it to Gallo earlier this year.

Several members of Decriminalize Nature Oakland told council members of personal “life-changing” experiences that resulted from using the drugs and of how other cultures have used them for centuries to be closer to nature. Little was said at the meeting of people just using them for recreation.

“Our communities have been using natural plant medicines as they are indigenous to communities of color; they’ve been using them for thousands of years,” said Amber Senter, a local cannabis entrepreneur who is also part of Decriminalize Nature Oakland.

Council member Loren Taylor abstained from the vote Tuesday, saying although he recognizes that the drugs can benefit people in certain settings, he is concerned they also can be used unsafely and hopes to see an education effort warning people of the risks.

“It’s a matter of how we deploy it and make sure it’s not something that becomes a fad with our kids and potentially used in schools,” Taylor said, adding he’s also worried about people driving under the influence of entheogenic plants.

Oakland police officials at Tuesday’s meeting didn’t weigh in on the proposal, but noted there’s been only 19 cases over the past five years in which they confiscated a substance believed to be psilocybin mushrooms.

Several speakers mentioned a study released by Johns Hopkins University last year that suggested psilocybin could be used to treat depression and anxiety and even help people quit smoking, according to the New York Times. Bestselling author and Berkeley resident Michael Pollan’s recent book, “How to Change Your Mind,” makes the case that psychedelic drugs can be effective therapy tools, especially for people trying to recover from drug addiction. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/05/29/after-denver-legalized-magic-mushrooms-oakland-could-be-next/

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