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They warned us this would happen. After all those years of trying to debunk the myth that marijuana is a gateway drug, here we stand in California, one year after the legalization of recreational cannabis with another ballot initiative. This time, to legalize psilocybin, otherwise known as magic mushrooms. On a more serious note, this effort is very real and it’s one step closer to a more evidence-based approach to psychedelics – especially when the substance in question has proven to cause minimal harm.

Spearheading this initiative is an activist and mayoral candidate for Marina, California, Kevin Saunders. He could be considered a legalization purist to some and a radical to others as he was both a vocal supporter of the movement to legalize marijuana and an opponent of the heavy restrictions behind Proposition 64.

Now, he’s taking another shot at legalization in the form of psilocybin (the man active molecule in magic mushrooms) based on the notion that adults over 21 are smart and responsible enough to make their own decisions.

The proposed ballot measure, first introduced in August, is known as the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative and would allow Californians to decide whether they want to legalize the possession, sale, distribution, and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.

If successful, the initiative simply aims to remove the penalties currently associated with the substance, while a regulatory framework would have to be worked out later. But before Californians can vote on the issue a petition to place it on the November 6, 2018, ballot needs 365,000 signatures; which Saunders was cleared to collect as of November 3rd, 2017.

It’s something he’s is quite optimistic he can achieve.

“We couldn’t be more pleased [with the support]” Saunders told HERB, “were ecstatic actually.”

Should the petition receive 85,000 signatures it will trigger a legislative assembly hearing in California which could catapult the issue to the forefront of voters’ minds.

“Just the fact that [politicians] are going to say the word psilocybin on the record, to me, is a victory,” says Saunders.

Today psilocybin is considered a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medicinal benefits. Though the amount of research suggesting that it can be effective in treating a range of mental illnesses from addiction to depression is steadily growing. In 2016, the Global Drug Survey released data showing that mushrooms were the least harmful of all substances – illegal or otherwise.

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Dr.Charles S. Grob, Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Harbor–UCLA Medical Center in his office in Torrance November 14, 2011 has conducted research on hallucinogens as a treatment for dying cancer patients with depression and anxiety. Last January Grob and his team reported in the Archives Of General Psychiatry that psilocybin (a hallucinogen derived from a mushroom) prompted significant improvements in mood for patients with “existential anxiety” related to advanceed–stage cancer (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In addition to their increased prevalence in popular culture and society, Saunders thinks there’s are also hidden upsides to legalization that could save California taxpayers money.

“Not only could you tax and regulate it eventually,” He says, “but you could save millions of dollars through the justice system.” Implying that those who are dragged through the system for possession would no longer clog prisons and courtrooms.

Yet while psychedelics enthusiasts are happy to see some movement on the issue, Saunders says he hasn’t had much support from people who ought to be natural allies. Among them are California activists like Nate Bradley the former cop who helped to negotiate the regulatory scheme under Prop 64. Bradley did not respond to a request for comment.

The Drug Policy Alliance, which often takes an anti-prohibition stance, is also withholding its support at this time with the Director of Legal Affairs, Tamar Todd, telling HERB:

“DPA agrees that no one should be arrested or incarcerated simply because they possess or use psilocybin or other drugs.” Todd said over email, “However, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether to run or support a ballot measure in California and DPA does not yet have a position on this measure at this time.  We are currently focused on the safe and just rollout of marijuana regulation and our work to reduce the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses or deported for entering drug treatment post-arrest, and to reduce the number of people who die of drug overdose in California.”

It usually takes somewhere between $2 to $3 million to get an effort like this off the ground. It’s a goal Saunders believes is achievable so long as people are made aware of the campaign and with social media as a force multiplier. He also expects to garner support among activists in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

But others like Alex Kreit, Professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law are less optimistic.

“From what I’ve read of this effort so far, it sounds like a long shot to say the least.” He told HERB, “Without serious financial backing, it’s virtually impossible to gather enough signatures to even make the ballot.”

Though Kreit admits that there could be a wave of support he is unaware of and Saunders is ever the optimist. He has a whole year ahead of him to get the word out and grassroots movements have had some major success in recent years. It’s certainly too early to tell, but we wouldn’t count California out as the place where an individual’s state of mind is no longer criminalized.

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

 

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