Is Chicago’s History of Corruption Concerning for Psilocybin Reform?

Could Chicago’s political history derail progress in the psychedelic sector?
Is Chicago's History of Corruption Concerning for Psilocybin Reform?

Psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) is believed to provide therapeutic relief to several possible medical conditions. Like cannabis, an uptick of lab results offered additional insights into what many have claimed anecdotally for years. 

In recent years, researchers concluded that a single dose of psilocybin can produce “substantial and enduring decreases” in depression and anxiety levels in cancer patients. Other studies acknowledge the possible efficacy of psilocybin in various conditions like suicide, depression, anxiety, OCD, and addiction to certain substances. 

Most, if not all, studies concerning psilocybin end with the same call to action for additional research. The call has seemingly been answered by recent studies, as well as numerous currently underway. The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) lists lab research endeavors focusing on psilocybin. It currently lists studies on psilocybin’s interaction with cancer, cognition, perception and depth inversion as ongoing efforts.   

The often promising lab results emboldened community efforts in Denver and Oakland, leading to both cities decriminalizing the psychedelic in some form or another. In Denver, its bill applies specifically to psilocybin mushrooms, whereas in Oakland, its bill extends to other fungi and entheogenic plants. 

The late Spring 2019 passages by both cities led to speculation that more could soon follow. Such thinking has proved true with the recent activity in additional U.S. cities. In Portland, Oregon, citizens could end up voting on three psychedelics measures in 2020, including one that would legalize mushrooms for therapeutic purposes. Meanwhile, Berkeley, California is expected to have a hearing in November that could see it pass similar legislation to Oakland, while Dallas mulls decriminalization of its own.

Ronan Levy, founder of Field Trip, an investment and operational vehicle for the psychedelic industry, stated that the efforts by Oakland and Denver kickstarted the rise in therapeutic psychedelics. That said, Levy commends California and another state for being more progressive. Levy said, “We believe that the efforts in Oregon and California that go a step further and propose the creation of a legal, regulated framework for psilocybin mushrooms and plant-based psychedelics are a better approach.”

Could Psilocybin Advance in Chicago?

Chicago’s city council approved a resolution to advance psychedelic studies, calling on the Department of Public Health (DPH) to analyze the efficacy of such substances. The October 2019 decision by the city council should advance the discussion around psilocybin in the city. “Should” being the keyword as a resolution is not an ordinance. As such, the council’s ruling is not enforceable by city code. 

However, if the Chicago DPH proceeds with studies, it could advance the discussion in a state on the cusp of adult use cannabis sales. The recommended research would aim to understand better if psilocybin and other entheogenic plants are suitable alternatives to pharmaceutical medications. 

If the results come back in support of psychedelics, the city would then likely propose a decriminalization ordinance. The proposed ordinance would then need to pass city aldermen, a Health and Human Relations committee, and a full council vote in a bid for decriminalization.

Mickey Nulf, a cannabis educator and budtender, believes the process won’t be quick. “This will be a discussion for some time, and will at least be a year down the road before decisions are made.” Nulf does see any eventual legislation resembling the cannabis industry.

I arrived in Chicago for a cannabis convention just a few days after the resolution’s passage. While psilocybin was discussed by many at the event, excitement appeared to be somewhat muted by local attendees. More than one spoke off the record of concerns surrounding the city’s storied political corruption. 

John Frigo, a Chicago resident, described in an email how he supported the efforts around psilocybin and other psychedelics. However, he had little faith in the political system. Frigo said, “At the end of the day, Chicago and Illinois as a whole are corrupt.” 

He gave a hypothetical example of how a new industry gets mired in the city’s corruption. “Any new business opportunities, certain connected individuals are always going to be the ones to benefit,” he answered. Frigo continued, “newfound tax dollars are likely going to line the pockets of politicians, as well as their family and friends, instead of doing any good in the community.” 

Chicago’s Spotty Political History

The city’s history of hard-hitting, loyalty-based politics led to the creation of the “Chicago-style politics” moniker decades ago and continues to linger today. In recent years, it has become more of a generic political term for corruption and the city’s long history of it. 

That history continues to be written today. Over the past four decades, federal prosecutors have convicted over 1,700 officials, employees and contractors in Chicago. In May 2018, the city was ranked the most corrupt city in the U.S., with Illinois finishing third among states.

With such corruption, some remain skeptical of the city council’s decision, despite the therapeutic potential of such substances. 

Nulf voiced his concerns about the cost of entry. “Looking at the issues with legislation and fees required in the medical cannabis side, I could only imagine the income generated for the state if the measure was passed.”

Others aren’t sure corruption will extend into psychedelics. Jackee Stang, president and founder of the Chicago-based psychedelics corporation Delic Corp, believes that the city will learn from the effects of prohibition. “The history of the war on drugs is a history of corruption, coming from perverse economic incentives. Chicago is familiar with the harm it has inflicted since the days of Al Capone.”

Field Trip’s Levy doesn’t seem concerned either, citing good faith in psychedelics. “Corruption requires two parties to participate,” he began. “The people who are leading the reemergence of psychedelics are bringing a very intentional, conscious and thoughtful approach to the industry. So we think it very unlikely they would be willing to participate in such illicit activities.”

That said, Chicago has not even begun its research into the subject. While Portland, Dallas and Berkeley appear close to making a decision on the matter, Chicago could lag behind other cities considering such a progressive measure. 

For now, proponents of the measure will need to wait and hope that the city council’s resolution turns into action. While some believe the decision is doomed even if it passes, others remain confident in psychedelics can transcend the city’s history of political misdoings. If anything, we may want to pay extra attention to the cannabis news emerging from the state. It may provide a glimpse into the possible future of psychedelics in Chicago.

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