Photo by Todd Cooper

Battle for Psilocybin Therapy

This November many Oregonians will vote whether or not to ban psilocybin services and products in their area.

In November 2020, Oregonians voted on the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, and it passed. Now, two years later, more than half of Oregon’s 36 counties, and many cities, are voting again. 

Measure 109 legalized the use of psilocybin mushrooms to treat mental health conditions like depression, addiction, anxiety and “end-of-life distress.” To achieve this goal it gives the Oregon Health Authority the responsibility of regulating the “manufacture, delivery, purchase, and consumption of psilocybin.” 

Consumption of psilocybin, a Schedule I substance, is legal only within OHA licensed “psilocybin service centers,” during a “psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”

The law also created the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board, which is a group of experts appointed by the governor to make suggestions to OHA “on the requirements, specifications and guidelines for providing psilocybin services in Oregon,” according to the OHA website.

The measure passed originally with about 56 percent of the vote. However, the law included an opportunity for counties and cities who did not support the policy to opt out. To do so county commissioners and city councils wrote ordinances banning psilocybin centers and products.

As a result, the battle for legal psilocybin therapy will now play out on the local level as cities and counties vote on psilocybin bans and shape the landscape of Oregon’s psilocybin therapy network.

County-level votes will apply to all unincorporated regions of a county but hold no bearing on whether or not cities in the area decide to opt out. Cities in counties that will not hold an opt-out vote can still hold opt-out elections. 

Lane County is one of just nine counties in the state that does not have an opt-out ordinance on the ballot this November. However, local cities including Creswell, Cottage Grove and Junction City will vote on a ban.

In neighboring Deschutes County, Measure 109 has come to the center of the upcoming county commissioners’ races. It is one of just two counties that has an active campaign supporting 109 and voting down a potential ban.  

Measure 109 gave OHA two years to put all necessary parts of a system in place to allow the licensing and practice of psilocybin therapy. That two-year preparation period comes to an end on Jan. 1, 2023, and OHA will begin accepting applications for service center licenses. 

In early August, the Creswell City Council passed an ordinance to ban psilocybin centers and products. The ordinance was then added to the November ballot to be voted on by community members.

According to Creswell City Council President Kevin Prociw, Measure 109 was not on most people’s radar until the city got a notice from the League of Oregon Cities introducing them to the policy. Voters in Creswell are likely still new to the ordinance. 

“I would say that most people probably weren’t even aware of it, and wouldn’t be aware until they actually get their ballots,” Prociw says. “Frankly,” he adds, the council itself wasn’t “even aware of it.”

Before passing the ban and adding it to the ballot, the council discussed the possibility of a moratorium — a pause rather than an outright ban — on the policy. According to Prociw this would have allowed Creswell to see how psilocybin therapy is executed in the surrounding areas and possibly open Creswell to psilocybin therapy at a later date. Prociw originally voted against a ban in favor of a moratorium.

“I was not in favor of a ban, I was in favor of just a moratorium because I wanted to be able to say, let’s come back and revisit in two years,” Prociw says. “When you do a ban, it may come back and it may not. You don’t know, and I didn’t think that was right.”

While he shares his fellow city councilors’ concerns about the uncertainty of Measure 109, as it is the first ever U.S. policy to legalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms, Prociw also sees the potential benefits.

“The research suggests that it’s good for treating post traumatic stress disorder and depression. And I’ve experienced both of those,” Prociw says. “The more chronic versions of depression and PTSD — if it’s worse than what I’ve experienced, and I’m sure that some war veterans and things like that have experienced that —  I don’t want to deny them that opportunity if it can help them.”

Despite his original opposition to an all-out ban, Prociw in the end supported putting a ban on the ballot. Creswell citizens will vote on the ban in November. 

Neighboring Cottage Grove went through a similar process of putting psilocybin on the upcoming ballot. According to Cottage Grove Mayor and president of the Oregon Mayors Association Jeff Gowing, the council’s main concern was the uncertainty of Measure 109. 

“There’s no guidelines,” Gowing says. “Would you have to go to a marijuana distributor to get these or can you get it at AM/PM? How do you regulate it? How do you purchase it? Who sees it?” He adds, “The state did a terrible job of rolling this out.”

While some specifics of how psilocybin centers will work are still uncertain, Gowing’s observation isn’t entirely accurate, as Measure 109 clearly states psilocybin can only be purchased and used within OHA licensed service centers. 

Gowing compared the roll-out of psilocybin centers to the process of legalizing cannabis as many others have since both laws legalize the use of a federal Schedule I drug. However, Measure 109 does not legalize psilocybin for recreational use and places many restrictions on where, how and why psilocybin is used. 

In Deschutes County the cities of Bend and Sisters will not vote on a psilocybin ban and instead embrace Measure 109, but nearby Redmond along with the county government have pushed forward a vote on a psilocybin ban. 

Deschutes County is one of just two Oregon cities with a psilocybin ban on the ballot and a “vote ‘no’” campaign to shoot it down, according to Psychedelic Alpha’s Measure 109 tracker. Psychedelic Alpha advocates for the field of psychedelic medicine.

The campaign has become a subject of debate with two of the three Deschutes County commissioners up for re-election, says Piper Lucas, an organizer for the Vote No on 9-152 campaign to reject a Measure 109 ban.

Lucas and others, like Prociw, share concerns that bans could limit accessibility to psilocybin services, especially for those who need it most. 

“The veteran community, they really need healing and help,” Lucas says. “They have to go to Mexico and get on an international flight, which could, depending on their state, induce more trauma, or they have to drive into Bend, if unincorporated Deschutes doesn’t allow it.”

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