San Francisco Supervisors Vote to Decriminalize Psychedelics

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved an ordinance to effectively decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs in the city.
San Francisco

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week voted to pass a measure to decriminalize natural psychedelics such as magic mushrooms, giving its unanimous approval to a proposal to reform city policy on the drugs that show promise in the treatment of several serious mental health conditions.

The ordinance calls on the San Francisco Police Department to make the enforcement of laws prohibiting the possession, use, cultivation, and transfer of entheogenic plants and fungi including psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca 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.”

The measure notes that psychedelics “can benefit psychological and physical wellness” and “have been shown to be beneficial” for people dealing with addiction, trauma, and anxiety. Additionally, the ordinance encourages the State of California to reform its laws to decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs statewide.

Psychedelics for Mental Health

The proposal was introduced in July by Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston with the support of Decriminalize Nature, a group working to end the prohibition of entheogenic plants and fungi. Noting that the natural drugs have the potential to treat serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, grief and end-of-life anxiety, the group said that there “is an unmet need in San Francisco’s communities for the compassionate and effective care that these medicines provide.”

“I am proud to work with Decrim Nature to put San Francisco on record in support of the decriminalization of psychedelics and entheogens,” Preston said in a statement after the measure was approved by the Board of Supervisors on September 6. “San Francisco joins a growing list of cities and countries that are taking a fresh look at these plant-based medicines, following science and data, and destigmatizing their use and cultivation. Today’s unanimous vote is an exciting step forward.”

After introducing the measure earlier this year, 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.”

With the vote from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city is the largest municipality in the country to enact a psychedelics decriminalization measure. Denver was the first city in the nation to decriminalize psychedelics in 2019, and since that time others including Washington, D.C., Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Easthampton, Massachusetts have adopted similar ordinances. And two years ago, voters in Oregon approved pioneering legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use.

The San Francisco ordinance is similar to a California bill introduced by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener that would have decriminalized psychedelics statewide. After facing opposition, the legislation was amended to drop the decriminalization provisions and instead only authorize a study of the drugs.

“While I am extremely disappointed by this result, I am looking to reintroducing this legislation next year and continuing to make the case that it’s time to end the War on Drugs,” Wiener said after the bill was gutted. “Psychedelic drugs, which are not addictive, have incredible promise when it comes to mental health and addiction treatment. We are not giving up.”

Joshua Kappel, founding Partner and head of the Entheogens and Emerging Therapies division of the law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, lauded the unanimous approval of the ordinance by the Board of Supervisors after the vote.

“This is a great step forward for any city, but it’s surprising it took San Francisco over 3 years after Denver and Oakland decriminalized certain plants and fungi,” Kappel wrote in an email to High Times. “Hopefully, this paves the way for meaningful reform at the state level.”

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