Friday, June 10, psychedelic advocate Aaron Genuth was arrested in Ulster County by New York State Police officers. He is facing serious charges for allegedly possessing several psychedelics including LSD, MDMA, ketamine, and psilocybin. Genuth is calling upon the psychedelic community for help.
Genuth’s vehicle was impounded, and beyond the severe charges he’s facing, he also has to deal with mounting legal fees. A GoFundMe was set up to help Genuth handle growing fees and charges, with support from the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society and Dr. Bronner’s.
Genuth is founder and president of Darkhei Rephua—a Jewish entheogenic nonprofit he founded. Aaron has been advocating for cannabis, psychedelic, and drug policy reform for over 15 years. He also works with Decriminalize Nature New York, the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society, and has hosted or produced a variety of community events in New York City and upstate New York over the years.
“Ironically, the psychedelics Aaron is being charged with are either legal in clinical settings, scientifically proven to be beneficial medicines, decriminalized in some places, or on the brink of legalization,” his GoFundMe reads. Ketamine, for instance, is FDA-approved in clinical settings, while the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funds psilocybin research. Psychedelics in general are amid a renaissance in the world of psychedelic-assisted therapy.
According to the GoFundMe, Genuth is working with Andrew Kossover of Kossover Law, whose work has included leadership in Bail Reform, Discovery Reform, and reform of the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Friends and associates of Genuth are raising funds to help him A) recover his car and B) get on the road again, covering his initial expenses while he assesses the charges that were filed and legal fees.
Genuth spoke to High Times about his ongoing case and the current situation.
High Times: Should anyone be in jail for psychedelics (and cannabis for that matter)?
Genuth: No. Absolutely nobody should be in jail for psychedelics or cannabis, including me. Cannabis and psychedelic reform and legalization need to prioritize decriminalization and prisoner release and they really haven’t thus far.
Given your work with Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society and Darkhei Rephua, did you have legitimate, educational reasons for having psychedelics?
Yes I did, though I should probably not say much more than that due to the case being active. I will add that there’s no legitimate reason to arrest people for psychedelic or other drug possession.
Tell us what Darkhei Rephua is.
Darkhei Rephua is a 501(c)3 Jewish psychedelic nonprofit that I founded just as the pandemic began. Our focus is on spiritual health and healing that is rooted in community and nature, prioritizing advocacy for psychedelic medicine, culture, and experience. Over the last few years we’ve been hosting gatherings and outreach for New York’s psychedelic and cannabis communities, primarily in NYC and the Catskills. One of the factors that inspired me to found Darkhei was a reaction to the growing positive press around clinical studies and limited research on psychedelics in institutions like Johns Hopkins and NYU. I believe everyone should have access to psychedelic research and healing in the setting that is most optimal for them, including those who feel most comfortable with a medical doctor in a sterile clinical or research environment. I don’t, and I wouldn’t recommend it for most people. I’m concerned that the current representation and media around psychedelics still reinforces the idea that they are dangerous substances that most people shouldn’t be legally allowed to access, produce, or consume. That’s part of the same false narrative around cannabis that still exists—the idea that it should only be medically legal, or only legal if bought through legally regulated outlets, I believe that psychedelics should be represented in an honest and ethical way that first addresses the injustices of criminalization, the class and cost barriers that currently exists, and the fact that humans have been intentionally pursuing spiritual, transcendental, and drug experiences for our entire existence. Institutional researchers shouldn’t have any more legal access to psilocybin than community healers, or anyone capable of cultivating and consuming them. That’s what Darkhei Rephua represents to me, and hopefully to our community.
Tell us about your involvement with Decriminalize Nature New York.
My connection to Decriminalize Nature happened very organically and psychedelically. I was first introduced to the idea and group a week or so before the first initiative passed in Oakland in 2019. I was volunteering at the Queering Psychedelics conference at the table next to them so I had an opportunity to learn a lot about the resolution, and that it was expected to pass, possibly unanimously. This was just after the Denver Psilocybin Initiative had passed and the locally targeted and cultivation focused elements of Decriminalize Nature’s resolution, as well as expanding beyond psilocybin to include all naturally occurring entheogens inspired me to launch it in New York, thinking that we may have a good chance of passing a resolution in one of the progressive towns in the Hudson Valley. I co-launched the group in New York City, which is where I was entirely based at the time. Since the pandemic I’ve been spending most of my time in New York in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, where I joined the founding board of the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society as director of outreach and policy.
I’ve been a religious and recreational cannabis and psychedelic user for most of my life and I was deeply disappointed with many elements of cannabis ‘legalization’. I spent some time working in and covering cannabis in California just after legalization there in 2018, for publications that include High Times. I’d fallen in love with Northern California’s cannabis community and culture in 2006 or so, ever since my first visit to a pot farm in Humboldt County when I was dragged out west from Brooklyn by hippie friends for my first national Rainbow Gathering. I also worked in the industry around 2013, learning more about the legal and medical markets in California, Colorado, and Washington. When Prop 64 ultimately passed, I watched the cannabis industry quickly transition to a highly taxed, regulated and re-criminalized corporate system. I recognized the Decriminalize Nature model as much more reflective of what many of us wanted and expected to see from cannabis legalization; a complete and permanent end to law enforcement’s ability to arrest or otherwise violently harass us, and the right of all people to cultivate and share plants and fungi. Until we’ve done that, we’re still allowing the perpetuation of the horrific legacies of Anslinger, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Biden, and their many partners in drug war injustice and mass incarceration.
More recently, our group in New York City has had some disconnects with the national board in Oakland regarding some of their more antagonistic strategies and practices. We and some other local groups have launched a Decrim First coalition and initiative that includes all psychedelics and fights for decriminalization as a necessary first step to reforms like therapeutic and medical access. We’ll be operating under that banner while we work through the internal and external issues currently facing Decriminalize Nature. I’ve also been actively working with the New York Psilocybin Action Committee (NYPAC) to advocate for state level reforms that include decriminalization and cultivation in next year’s legislative session. I’ve also worked continually with Students for Sensible Drug Policy because they’re awesome and maintain the focus on student leadership in ending the war on drugs, which, as they like to remind us, is a war on (some) people.
What happened on June 10?
I’ll have to be somewhat sensitive about what I say here again, since the case is still active. I was pulled over for an expired inspection sticker. I declined repeatedly to consent to a search, so the officer arrested me for suspicion of DUI due to the smell of cannabis in the car, and searched my car. Long (and possibly incriminating) story short, I was charged with possession of psilocybin, LSD, MDMA, and ketamine. The 98 grams of psilocybin was initially charged as a felony, which would include a mandatory minimum of 3 years in state prison if convicted at trial under New York’s reformed but still draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws. Fortunately, I was able to find and retain a very good and qualified lawyer, through supporters of the Hudson Valley Psychedelic Society. Just as fortunately, the Assistant DA is familiar with some of the positive research on psilocybin as well as the Oregon legalization so she dropped the felony down to a misdemeanor. I’m optimistic that my documented advocacy work and the very well documented benefits and positive research results surrounding all of these psychedelics will lead to a relatively positive resolution. I’ve pointed out many times since my arrest that a person without my network and willingness to fight might be in a much more difficult position, particularly if they are a parent and holding a state regulated license, for example a nurse or teacher. A person in that position might lose custody and their job regardless of the results of the trial, and possibly have permanent negative effects on their life.
Is it frustrating that there are FDA-approved ketamine-assisted therapy treatments, yet the punishments are severe?
Yes, very. It’s just as frustrating to me that ketamine treatments are prohibitively expensive for many, despite the drug being very plentiful and cheap to produce. That’s not to suggest that every practitioner is gouging people, the issue at its root is regulatory; the combination of bad drug and healthcare policy creating a perfect storm of disproportionate harm that targets the poorest and most vulnerable. Ketamine was first granted ‘breakthrough’ status by the FDA in 2013 and there’s clinics and practitioners all over the country legally providing this medicine safely, legally, and therapeutically—often with incredible results for people suffering from Treatment Resistant Depression, severe PTSD, and suicidality. It’s absurd that it’s not accessibly available to everyone who needs it in the middle of an extended national mental health, suicide, overdose, and financial crisis. I personally believe that all psychedelics should be completely covered under a Universal Holistic Healthcare program, along with any other healing medicine or modality.
What are some of the charges you’re facing?
I got paraphernalia charges for a scale and the bags that the mushrooms were in. I also got charged with a DUI, which is the charge I’m most concerned about since it’s completely false, I was absolutely sober and returned from the grocery store at 10:30am. I’m an advocate for drug users, drug possession, and responsible drug use, but not for driving unsafely or unsoberly so I’m going to fight those charges from every angle possible. The paraphernalia charges also shouldn’t exist, and are addressed in a bill that Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal will be introducing in the state legislature next year. I and some others from the Decrim community worked on those and other amendments that were added to the bill that AM Rosenthal has introduced for the last 3 years to deschedule psilocybin and psilocin. We also worked with her team on another bill she’s introducing, to introduce more decriminalized and community based research and openings to treatment.
What can readers do to help right now?
My case is hopefully going in the right direction, but it’s been a very expensive disruption to my life and work. Any contributions to my GoFundMe are deeply appreciated. We have a special offer currently; a limited number of donors giving $54 or more will receive a Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate, which they’ve generously provided and allowed me to offer as an incentive. (The chocolates are delicious and vegan and fair trade but not psychotropic, no weed or mushrooms in them.) For those in or connected to New York; please join the Decrim First coalition and support NYPAC! The quickest route I know of to do that is to DM us or comment on Instagram @DecrimFirst or email us at DecrimFirst@gmail.com.
I also urge all New Yorkers who care and can to actively support the policies represented in AM Rosenthal’s legislation by reaching out to your state representatives to support and co-sponsor it, and to push for local reform. Please connect with us for support in reaching out to local legislators and law enforcement about policy and legislation! We’ve got templates for legislation, outreach materials, and experienced advocates and experts ready to back you up. Written and video recorded testimonials can also be very influential. We believe that New York must take immediate steps to meaningful reform that includes cultivation, decriminalization, and community access, and that it’s possible within the next year.