The City Council in Eureka, California, adopted a resolution this week to decriminalize psychedelic plants and fungi, making enforcement of laws against personal use, cultivation and possession a low priority for police. It’s at least the fifth local jurisdiction in the state to embrace the policy change.
The resolution, which passed unanimously on Tuesday, deprioritizes the investigation and arrest of adults 21 and older for certain psychedelics-related activity.
Specifically, it applies to “planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing Entheogenic Plants and Fungi or their extracted compounds that are on the Federal Schedule I list” and says that those activities “will not be a public safety priority for the City of Eureka.”
It does not change the city’s approach to commercial sales or processing of psychedelics, driving under the influence, possessing or distributing substances in schools or “causing a public disturbance or jeopardizing public safety resulting from the influence of these substances.”
A summary of the measure notes that the deprioritization language is because local governments can’t do away with either state or federal laws against the possession and use of entheogens.
“Recognizing the City’s limitations as far as declaring Federal and State laws null and void,” the summary says, “the proposed resolution is couched in terms of limiting or deprioritizing the use of the City’s resources to enforce such laws.” It adds that no fiscal impact on the city is expected.
It’s an approach used by a number of municipalities across the country that have sought to decriminalize the noncommercial grow-gather-gift model promoted by advocacy groups such as Decriminalize Nature. Earlier this month, leaders in Portland, Maine, adopted a similar psychedelics resolution, which also applies to sharing substances without compensation.
Unlike some other decriminalization resolutions, Eureka’s measure does not exclude peyote, a psychedelic cactus that has been the subject of considerable controversy due to overharvesting and the plant’s particular importance to some Indigenous communities. Portland’s recently adopted resolution, for example, doesn’t apply to peyote “in light of its vulnerable ecological status, combined with its religious and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples,” the document says.
It also urges the Humboldt County district attorney’s office “to consider the spirit and intent of this resolution when evaluating whether to prosecute persons” for use of natural psychedelics.
The Eureka City Council summary notes that state legislation was introduced during this year’s legislative session that would have legalized “the possession, preparation, obtaining, or transportation of specified quantities of specific entheogens,” referring to a bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) that won approval from lawmakers but was vetoed earlier this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).
In January of this year, the council voted unanimously to support the Wiener bill, SB 58. “There’s all these real defended medical benefits that are derived from things that currently are illegal,” Councilmember Scott Bauer said, according to the Eureka Times-Standard. “You know, at one time, cannabis was illegal and we’ve, we’ve come to see it as, for a lot of people, as a medicine.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Eureka Police Commander Lenny La France said he agreed with Newsom’s veto of SB 58, citing the potential for unintended public safety consequences. But City Manager Miles Slattery said that the Arcata Police Department hadn’t reported problems resulting from the policy change adopted locally there.
During the Council discussion, some members were concerned about a provision in the resolution that said the use of entheogenic plants “can catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth,” worrying that the line could be taken as an endorsement of psychedelics use. Ultimately the body decided to strike that paragraph and then passed the measure unanimously.
Cities have taken the lead in psychedelics decriminalization in recent years since Denver voters decriminalized the use and possession of psilocybin in 2019. Massachusetts has seen at least five jurisdictions pass decriminalization language: Salem, Somerville, Cambridge, Easthampton and Northampton. And four cities in Michigan have adopted similar measures: Ferndale, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Hazel Park.
At the state level, Oregon in 2020 legalized psilocybin therapy in addition to decriminalizing possession of all drugs. The state approved the first legal psilocybin service center this past May.
And in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a psychedelics regulation bill into law in May, setting rules for a psychedelics legalization law that voters passed last year.
An analysis published in an American Medical Association journal last year concluded that a majority of states will legalize psychedelics by 2037, based on statistical modeling of policy trends.
According to a national poll published in March, a majority of U.S. voters support legal access to psychedelics therapy and back federally decriminalizing substances like psilocybin and MDMA, both of which have been designated by the Food and Drug Administration as “breakthrough therapies.”
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