Oakland Votes Unanimously to Decriminalize Psychoactive Plants Like Ayahuasca, Peyote and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

Magic Mushrooms sit in a fridge on July 18, 2005 in London, England. (Credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Magic Mushrooms sit in a fridge on July 18, 2005 in London, England. (Credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to become the first U.S. city to decriminalize the adult use and possession of psychoactive plants like ayahuasca and peyote, and the second to make the same move for hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The resolution makes the adult use and possession of all entheogenic, or psychoactive, plants and fungi the lowest priority for police. That means, along with psilocybin mushrooms, it applies to cacti like peyote, the shrub iboga that has been used to treat opioid dependence and a variety of plants used to brew ayahuasca, among other things.

Denver voters in May approved a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms for people 21 and older.

A string of people at the City Council meeting shared how psychedelics helped them overcome depression, drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Speakers overwhelmingly supported the move, describing substances like peyote as traditional plant-based medicines. One man who described himself as a former heroin addict said such plants saved his life. Some offered mystical descriptions of the hallucinogens as providing spiritual healing.

“Entheogenic plants and fungi are tremendous for helping to enable healing, particularly for folks who have experienced trauma in their lives,” said Carlos Plazola, chair of the advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Oakland. “These plants are being recommended pretty extensively undercover, underground, by doctors and therapists.”

The vote makes the investigation and arrest of adults who grow, possess, use or distribute entheogenic plants one of the lowest priorities for police. No city money could be used to enforce laws criminalizing the substances, and the Alameda County district attorney would stop prosecuting people who have been apprehended for use or possession.

In the last five years, Oakland police have recorded 19 cases of suspected psilocybin mushrooms being submitted to the department’s crime lab, according to testimony from a police official at the council’s public safety committee meeting last Tuesday. The official did not have data available for other plants.

Councilmember Noel Gallo, who introduced the resolution, said decriminalizing such plants enables Oakland police to focus on serious crime.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick declined to comment.

A tourist shows heads of peyote in the desert near the town of Real de 14, in San Luis Potosi State, Mexico, on July 17, 2013. (Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP / Getty Images)

A tourist shows heads of peyote in the desert near the town of Real de 14, in San Luis Potosi State, Mexico, on July 17, 2013. (Credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP / Getty Images)

Still, magic mushrooms remain illegal under both federal and state laws. Entheogenic substances are considered Schedule 1 drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which categorizes drugs that have potential for abuse and no medical value.

Amendments offered by Council member Loren Taylor added caveats that the substances “are not for everyone,” recommending that people with PTSD or major depression seek professional help before using them and that people “don’t go solo” but seek expert guidance and have a trusted friend present during the use.

The ordinance also directs the city administrator to come back within a year to provide the council with an assessment of the law’s impact on the community.

Skeptics had raised concerns about unsafe use, especially in schools.

To address such concerns, Gallo said, lawmakers would have to establish rules and regulations about the use of such substances, including what exactly can be used, how to use them and what the associated risks are.

Entheogenic plants have long been used in religious and cultural contexts. Gallo remembers his grandmother treating his family members with plants, including entheogenic ones, for a variety of ailments.

“Growing up in the Mexican community, this was our cure,” Gallo said.

Hemp oils, mushrooms and yerba buenas — an aromatic plant known for its medicinal properties — “that was our Walgreens. We didn’t have a Walgreens. We didn’t have a way to pay for any drugs. These are plants we have known for thousands of years in our community and that we continue to use.”

Julie Megler, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who spoke in support of the proposal at last week’s meeting, said it could also help people who lack the funds for traditional prescription drugs.

“I believe that the medical model is important, but is limited in the number of people that can access its care,” she said.

Another supporter with Decriminalize Oakland, Gary Kono, identified himself as a retired surgeon. He admitted there is some risk associated with the plants and fungi, “but more people die from taking selfies for their social media than from all of our entheogens combined.”

KTLA’s Erika Martin contributed to this report.

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