City leaders in San Francisco will consider a proposed ordinance to decriminalize the use of natural psychedelics including psilocybin and ayahuasca when the Board of Supervisors returns from recess next month. The measure, which was introduced by San Francisco Supervisors Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen on July 26, would also encourage the state of California to reform its psychedelic drugs policy.
If adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the ordinance would call on the San Francisco Police Department to make enforcement of laws banning the possession, use, cultivation and transfer of entheogenic plants and fungi including psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca and their active components by adults “amongst the lowest priority for the City and County of San Francisco,” according to the text of the proposal.
The ordinance also requests that city resources not be used for “any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.”
Preston has been critical of the SFPD’s recent increase in enforcement of laws criminalizing drug use. But he noted that decriminalizing natural psychedelics is a different matter.
“We’re not talking about addictive substances here. Around this particular category, I would hope that even folks who disagree around the best approaches to dealing with opioids and other drugs prevalent in San Francisco would agree with deprioritizing enforcement around entheogenic plants,” Preston said, adding that research has shown psychedelics have the potential to treat several serious mental health issues including substance abuse.
The Evolution of Psychedelics Policy
Preston noted that the measure would bring San Francisco policy in line with the movement to look at psychedelics in a new light after decades of stigma and criminalization.
“The law hasn’t evolved at all since then, and these substances are treated the way they always have been,” Preston said. “At the same time, the scientific community has been expanding their study and research into their therapeutic use.”
Michael Pollan, a co-founder of the Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics and the creator of a recent Netflix documentary series on the drugs, said that entheogenic plants can be used therapeutically, but warned they should be used with caution.
“These substances have enormous potential, but they are not for everyone and they carry serious risks when used improperly,” Pollan said at a recent news conference. “The shift from destroyer of young minds in the ’60s to effective medicine in the 2020s is as sudden as it is confusing to many people. So we want to address that confusion and that curiosity with solid, credible information from a trusted source.”
“Not many people were doing basic science, trying to understand how it is that psychedelics have the effects they have and why they’re effective in the treatment of various mental disorders,” Pollan added. “We want to figure out what psychedelics might teach us about things like perception, predictive processing, belief change and brain plasticity.”
If the psychedelics decriminalization ordinance is approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city would become the largest municipality to enact such a measure. Denver was the first city in the nation to decriminalize psychedelics in 2019, and since that time others including Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Easthampton, Massachusetts have adopted similar ordinances. And two years ago, voters in Oregon approved groundbreaking legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use.
“One of the striking things about the Oregon experiment, which passed by ballot initiative in 2020, is that it will make a guided psychedelic experience available to anyone over 21, regardless of diagnosis,” said Pollan. “I do think that the use of psychedelics will not be restricted to the medical system. It’s not now and won’t be in the future.”
Dr. Markus Roggen, the president and chief science officer of psychedelics and cannabis research and development firm Delic Labs, said he supports the intent of the San Francisco psychedelics proposal.
“I welcome decriminalization from a philosophical point, as criminalizing ‘drug’ possession/use has brought many costs and pains to the country,” Roggen wrote in an email to High Times.
But he added that he does not believe decriminalization goes far enough and that past harms caused by the criminalization of psychedelic drugs need to be righted. He also said that decriminalization should include regulation, noting the thriving illicit psychedelics industry in the Netherlands.
“There the use is legal but production illegal,” said Roggen. “The government handed this whole industry to the cartels and mafia.”
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will take up the psychedelics decriminalization measure when it returns from recess in September.