Two states have legalized guided psilocybin sessions, a dozen cities have effectively decriminalized psychedelic use, and psychedelic therapy could be approved by the FDA in as little as two years. It’s not legal anywhere in the US to sell retail psilocybin products though. It’s the same in Canada, even though one province just reportedly covered the cost of magic mushroom therapy for two patients. But where there is demand, there will be supply. And, perhaps inevitably, police busts.
In Portland, Oregon—which will be offering regulated psilocybin therapy next year following a groundbreaking state ballot vote—officers from the force’s narcotics and organized crime unit raided Shroom House at 1:00 a.m. on December 8. The brick-and-mortar was allegedly selling magic mushrooms openly in the city’s commercial district for weeks.
Staff working at the shop, whose storefront featured red and white spotted mushrooms while a billboard sat nearby, were arrested, and $13,000 in cash was seized along with a “large amount of suspected psilocybin products,” according to police. The owner was later arrested separately. The bust followed an undercover operation after the store opened in late October, with customers waiting hours to enter and be served due to the demand.
“The reaction of the police, the city of Portland, and the district attorney’s office to proceed criminally with this business when they had other options is deeply disappointing,” says Leland Berger, a lawyer who has supported drug reform causes and is defending proprietor “Tony” Tachie, whose bail was set at $1.5 million dollars.
“This prosecution feels similar to the prosecution of medical marijuana patients prior to [its] legalization,” adds Berger. “Like cannabis, psilocybin is mis-scheduled as [Schedule one on the federal Controlled Substances Act] because it has legitimate medical uses and is actually necessary medically for some people.”
“The moral arc of history is long but bends towards justice,” he continued. “And I believe that is true for drug policy reform. I shouldn’t have to stand next to anyone in court because of a plant.”
Tachie has been charged along with fellow plaintiff, manager Jeremiah Geronimo, on 22 counts—mostly money laundering and manufacturing and delivery of a controlled substance near a school, but also one count of unlawful possession of a schedule one drug. Shroom House has another outlet in Vancouver, where it is one of a number of such stores testing the limits of the law.
On the charges his client faces, Berger adds: “I’m looking forward to getting us to the point where this kind of activity, even if it’s true and my client has criminal liability, which I don’t think he does, is just treated like going to a liquor store or food shopping.”
In Florida, a CBD dispensary which made headlines for selling amanita muscaria, the iconic red and white spotted psychedelic mushroom that does not include the prohibited psilocybin, has been forced to pull the products following a visit from the state’s department of agriculture and consumer services.
“To be clear, the amanita muscaria mushroom is still legal in the State of Florida and can still be possessed and sold,” Chillum owner Carlos Hermida wrote on his blog. “However, it may not be sold as a consumable food product, and we have been involved in numerous press releases telling people to consume this mushroom. Due to this, unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, selling amanitas is not something we will be able to do.”
This all comes shortly after the two owners of Shroomyz, a store in Toronto, were arrested and charged for selling psilocybin products. However, city authorities will not close the shop down. According to its manager, the store intends to keep operating as a “medical protest.”
Other stores operating openly in Vancouver and Ontario remain unscathed, including another Shroomyz outlet in Ottawa. Its storefront invites visitors to “walk into a new reality.” Meanwhile, an increasing number of stores in New York City and elsewhere have also allegedly been selling products such as magic mushroom chocolate bars, sometimes surreptitiously.
Paul Lewis, a lawyer specializing in drug policy, told CBC: “There’s a general sense that the law is out of touch. Many patients who would benefit from medical psilocybin cannot get access and this tends to happen when there’s a substance that does a lot of good and the government is making it very difficult to access it. Others will spring up and fill the void.”
Despite these recent busts, not all cities are choosing to convict people manufacturing and selling psilocybin. Earlier this month, Rabbi Ben Gorelick of Denver, Colorado had a felony charge for possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance. The charge was dropped after his warehouse was raided, and 30 kinds of magic mushrooms were found growing. The founder of the Sacred Tribe was reportedly supplying his congregation, which uses psilocybin ceremoniously. The decision was made “in the interest of justice,” according to Denver District Attorney Office Representative Carolyn Tyler, “in light of the voters’ decision” to legalize supported psilocybin sessions in Colorado. (Proposition 122, which passed in November, will license psilocybin healing centers in the state, but not allow for commercial sales.)
“I don’t know what everything got dismissed on or for,” Gorelick told The Denver Post. “At this point in time, what I can tell you is I’m very, very, very grateful to the DA’s office for dropping the case. It’s been a long year for the community, it’s been a long year for us, and we look forward to getting back to practicing our religion, which is what the whole point of this is.”