How Cannabis Legalization Affects Psychedelics Efforts

The path cannabis has taken toward legalization is guiding psychedelics efforts.

There are many similarities between the cannabis industry’s evolution and the path the psychedelics industry is taking.

Both categories are Schedule 1 substances (except for the psychedelic ketamine). Now they are both locked in a rush to be decriminalized and legalized in various states across the country.

Cannabis has a huge head start, with some form of state-level legalization already established in the vast majority of the U.S. In addition, a recent Monmouth University poll found that two-thirds (68%) of the American public supports legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

But some opponents of psychedelics are seeing a disturbing pattern with psilocybin, as it begins to move from being approved as a medical-only substance, gets decriminalized in more states, and works its way toward legalization in much the same way that cannabis has done.

That pattern was first noticed in Colorado, when legalization of cannabis for medical use in 2000 led to legalizing recreational consumption in 2012. Today there are 18 other states plus D.C. that have legalized adult-use consumption of.

More than 50 localities in a dozen states have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses. Other states are actively considering decriminalization bills.

That accelerating decriminalization of cannabis has prompted legislators in some states to call the whole cannabis decriminalization effort a “trojan horse,” designed to legalize recreational cannabis use in states where it currently doesn’t have that status. They believe that there is an underlying movement within some of the decriminalization bills to get cannabis off the federal controlled substances list.

One example comes from Wyoming, where they continue their work on a cannabis decriminalization bill, HB-106.

“This bill is a thinly disguised attempt to legalize marijuana by modifying existing statutes and eliminating references to marijuana under existing state drug abuse laws,” Wyoming attorney and Richard Jones wrote in an op-ed piece about the measure. Jones ran for an lost the Wyoming state senate election in 2020. “Not only is marijuana exempt in the basic definition of ‘controlled substance,’ it is specifically exempt under this section (section 35-7-1039 of the bill) – ‘a controlled substance listed in Schedule I, except marijuana.’”

What it Means for Psychedelics

While the decriminalization actions have helped the cannabis industry hack-and-slash through the regulatory clutter on the bumpy road to legalization, there are concerns that it’s also helping blaze a smoother path for psychedelics that are now on the same road with medical legalization leading to decriminalization that could lead to recreational legalization.

Oregon, the state that was first to legalize cannabis, also led the legalization movement of psilocybin with Measure 109 that, for now, appears to be staying true to its legal structure: Psilocybin is therapeutic, not recreational.

The regulatory framework of the program, the first ever for legal psilocybin, is still being worked out and is expected to be complete by January 2023 when the Oregon Psilocybin Services will begin accepting license applications for treatment facilities.

But there is already some confusion about how “medical” the Oregon program really is, since a facilitator working in a treatment center does not have to be a certified doctor or even have a college degree. The regulations as they stand now are perceived to be enabling a form of legal recreational use within some vague regulatory language.

One example of how the evolution of psychedelics is now tip-toeing into recreational use comes from a 2021 psilocybin decriminalization bill (A6065A) introduced by New York Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. The bill is intended to delist psilocybin and psilocin as Schedule I substances.

But on Oct. 3, 2022, that same bill with additional stipulations broadening legal protection of adults possessing and using several psychedelics was filed, as reported by Marijuana Moment.

The revised proposal would legalize a larger list of psychoactive substances as well as supervised ceremonial and therapeutic practices with these natural plants and fungi for people 21 and older.

That means that while psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline would cease to be locally banned, nonprofit and religious organizations would be entitled to grow and administer them.

Where are We Now

Psilocybin decriminalization in various forms has already occurred in six states (Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico and New Hampshire), decriminalization legislation is active in 12 states, and working groups to figure out their decriminalization efforts are underway in Utah, Texas and Connecticut.

Cities including Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oakland, California; and Seattle, have passed measures that essentially decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and sometimes other psychedelics derived from plants or fungi. The cities make no distinction between medical and recreational uses, according to an article by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Several states also are taking active steps toward legalizing – rather than just decriminalizing – psychedelics, including:

  • Colorado is going the next step toward legalizing psilocybin as well. A ballot initiative to legalize “natural medicines,” including, psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine [DMT]), is on the November ballot.
  • A ballot initiative legalizing psilocybin in California stalled out and won’t go before voters in November, but the issue is still under active discussion.
  • The New Jersey Senate recently introduced a bill that would legalize psilocybin and also expunge psilocybin arrest records.

As the pace of the legalization of psilocybin (and some other psychedelics) continues through the various state legislatures, with the promise of broader access to more people who may genuinely need the medicinal help, concerns still linger as they did in the early days of legalized cannabis about the real goals and objectives.

But whether a psilocybin consumer gets it from a treatment center, from a new sort of loophole dispensary following a cannabis dispensary model, or through a legitimate religious ceremony is still being worked out.

For now, no one wants to visualize the chaos that could arise if psilocybin goes full cannabis – as in when anyone over 21 can walk into a store, buy a handful of shrooms, pick out a few, eat them, then drive off alone into the night. Being buzzed on cannabis is one thing; tripping on psilocybin as a chosen recreational substance is definitely a different, and sometimes freaky, level of high.

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.


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