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Breaking : Santa Cruz City Council Votes to Decriminalize Entheogenic Plants and Fungi

Santa Cruz is now the second jurisdiction in California to pass a Decriminalize Nature Initiative, and the third in the country to decriminalize mushrooms.

Miro Tomoski // Jan. 28, 2020

City councilors in Santa Cruz California have voted unanimously to decriminalize all naturally occurring psychedelics that are currently on the federal government’s Schedule I list of banned substances.

The measure, which passed on Tuesday January 28, sets entheogens—like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and ayahuasca—as the lowest law enforcement priority for local police, with an agreement that councilors will not commit any city resources toward investigations or arrests related to these plants and fungi for anyone 21 or older.

“Property rights dictate that individuals should have complete control over their own bodies and the substances they choose to put in their bodies,” says Sean Cutler, co-leader of Decriminalize Santa Cruz. “This resolution guaranteed that police can no longer steal entheogens from Santa Cruz residents who are personally using the substances.”

The new regulations are similar to those passed in Oakland last June, allowing for the cultivation and possession of entheogens (although, the sale of entheogens remains prohibited).

The measure also includes language that encourages local officials to lobby state and federal governments for the decriminalization of all plant-based substances currently banned under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

The measure recognizes that these plants and fungi have been considered sacred for centuries and that they have shown a potential to benefit mental health in clinical trials.

Santa Cruz is the second city to decriminalize entheogens in California and the third in the country after Denver decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms last spring.

Before the vote occurred, the council meeting saw many members of the community come together to share stories of how psychedelics have helped them treat addiction, depression and PTSD. Among those who spoke in front of councilors was Afghanistan war veteran Dylan Jouras who replaced the use of prescription opioids with psychedelic assisted therapy. Jouras is working closely with Project New Day, a new foundation supporting addiction treatment with psychedelics.

This decriminalization measure was just one of nearly a hundred similar measures—comprising the Decriminalize Nature movement—that are coming before city councilors across the country, replicating the original measure put forth in Oakland. From Dallas, Texas, to Washington DC, activists have launched their own spin-off coalitions, with some closer to realizing that goal than others: Councilors in Chicago, for example, have already begun to consider the initiative while the proposal has yet to be taken through the city hall process in Dallas.

Though the language in each measure is similar, some chapters have chosen to craft the language to suit their own community. Dallas, for instance, has added the decriminalization of cannabis to their version.

Leading the way, the original group in Oakland has been supportive of these activists around the country. “Decriminalize Nature congratulates the citizen leaders of Santa Cruz who took up the baton to pass their own resolution and ran with it,” Carlos Plazola of Decriminalize Nature Oakland tells DoubleBlind. “Without any pre-existing political contacts, they showed that tenacity and education are key to victory. We hope other groups in the US will be motivated by the success in Santa Cruz and that they too will persevere until victorious in their own city in pursuing their inalienable right to heal with nature’s gifts.”

Not all plants have made it through to the end, however. In Santa Cruz, some organizers wanted to include substances like coca leaves and poppy plants, which could also be considered natural banned substances, but are categorized as Schedule 2 under the CSA, and the measure was meant to focus only on Schedule 1 plants and fungi. While coca and poppies aren’t stereotypical entheogens, their traditional use might lend to entheogenic qualities—meaning that they would be used in spiritual practice, rather than purely for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Nonetheless, that proposal was opposed by local law enforcement and eventually abandoned by the organizers who were advocating for it.

In the end, Santa Cruz has now pioneered the decriminalization of just Schedule 1 entheogenic plants and fungi, paving the way for what could be a domino effect to follow throughout the country. 

Miro Tomoski is a Canadian journalist reporting on politics and drug policy. His highway journalism covers American presidential campaigns as well as legalization efforts across the U.S. and Canada. Follow him on the road, on Instagram and on Twitter.

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