In a historic vote, Oregon has become the first U.S. state to legalize psilocybin therapy. Tonight (Nov. 3), voters in Oregon approved the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to establish a psilocybin therapy program, which allows licensed facilitators to give psilocybin, the psychoactive component in magic mushrooms, to adults 21 or older.
Psilocybin is at the center of a growing, multi-billion dollar psychedelic industry, thanks to its remarkable ability to treat mental health, often with one dose. Numerous clinical studies dating back decades have demonstrated that psilocybin can, for some patients, wipe away depression, anxiety, addiction, and fear of death, among other conditions.
“Oregon made history tonight by establishing the first ever statewide program for psilocybin therapy in the country,” Sam Chapman, manager for the Yes on 109 campaign, tells DoubleBlind. “My heart is full of gratitude for the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who helped us get here, and for so many more suffering from depression, anxiety, and addiction who will soon have a new breakthrough therapy option. Tonight we will celebrate, and tomorrow we will get right back to work to ensure that this program embodies the regulations and training requirements we know are needed to create the safest, most accessible, affordable, and equity psilocybin program possible. Safety and access has always been, and will continue to be our top priorities as we move into the two year rule making period.”
As this model is unprecedented, it’s not entirely clear yet what this program will look like. OHA will now be responsible for laying out these regulations over the next two years, with the help of the newly created Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board, which will be appointed by the governor. This means it may still be a while before your average person can take magic mushrooms under clinical supervision in the state. The effort was supported by Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer (a known cannabis reformer), David Bronner, the CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, ACLU of Oregon, the Oregon Cannabis Association, and many others.
The initiative also received opposition from some, perhaps, surprising places. The Washington County Republican Party was against it, but so was Decriminalize Nature Portland, a local chapter of the national grassroots group that aims to decriminalize entheogenic substances like ayahuasca, ibogaine, and natural forms of psilocybin.
“This initiative would create one more medical model which serves the privileged members in society and makes it harder for the most vulnerable people to heal,” Zave Forster from DN Portland said in a press release in late September. “The cost and hard-to-access system being created by M109 would make it very difficult for lower income people, indigenous communities, immigrants, undocumented people, people who cannot afford an ID, and non-English speaking populations to gain entry into the closed and privileged system being created by this measure. We are concerned about the implications of an elite group of beneficiaries putting a free medicine that grows naturally out of the ground behind a paywall.”
It has taken years of effort for this measure to appear on Oregon’s ballot. In mid-2017, the idea was first proposed by Tom and Sheri Eckert, two married therapists, who were inspired, in part, by a personal mushroom trip. The couple later formed the Oregon Psilocybin Society, raised several million dollars, and began a campaign. The rest, they say, is history.
“As medical experts in psychiatric care, we are concerned about determining medical treatment by ballot initiative,” Dr. Saul Levin, the CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association said in a letter to Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno. “Such treatment should be evidence-based and determined solely by professional standards of care. Science does not yet indicate that psilocybin is a safe medical treatment for mental health conditions. While the FDA has granted psilocybin breakthrough therapy status, this does not establish the safety and efficacy of this treatment, it merely establishes the process by which to further study the treatment.”
In the meantime, five U.S. cities have decriminalized psilocybin—Denver, Santa Cruz, Oakland, Ann Arbor, and Washington, D.C. D.C. voters decriminalized all natural psychedelics tonight, making D.C. the first jurisdiction to pass a measure like it at the ballot as opposed to through city council. In another historic vote, Oregon also became the first state tonight to decriminalize all drugs, from heroin to MDMA, at the ballot. In California, two measures similar to Oregon’s psilocybin therapy initiative have been attempted in the past, but failed.
Oregon has long been a leader on U.S. drug policy. In 1973, Republican governor Tom McCall signed legislation making Oregon the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis and in 2014, a ballot measure made it the fourth to legalize weed recreationally. Although it’s still unclear exactly how this psilocybin licensing program will function, it could encourage other states to follow in 2022.
Troy Farah is an independent journalist from Southwest California. His reporting on drug policy and science has appeared in WIRED, The Guardian, Undark, Ars Technica, VICE and more. He co-hosts the drug policy podcast Narcotica. Follow him on Twitter.