A Psilocybin Advocate Considers the Lessons From Portland’s Shroom House

What will be the legacy of an illegal, but very popular, psychedelic mushroom boutique?

Evan Segura (Courtesy Evan Segura)

For six weeks, Shroom House sold psychedelic mushrooms from a shop on West Burnside. It wasn’t a psilocybin speakeasy. Shroom House advertised with seven signs, including a billboard across the street. It tweeted news stories from WW and others.

Thousands flocked to the store, some waiting six hours to buy what has lately been hailed as a wonder drug. Rigorous academic research shows that psilocybin can help with depression, alcohol abuse, and post traumatic stress disorder. And tripping is fun.

Shroom House on Burnside was the company’s second store. It has another one in Vancouver, B.C., where at least five shroom shops operate in violation of Canadian law.

The holiday wonderland vanished early last Thursday, when police raided Shroom House, arresting the owner, a hip-hop artist from Canada named Tony Tachie, and several employees. A judge set Tachie’s bail at $1.5 million, quashing the notion of a shroom-friendly Stumptown.

So, what did we learn here? We asked Evan Segura, former president of the Portland Psychedelic Society, an all-volunteer organization that seeks to educate people about the power and potential of psychedelics. Segura stepped down from the top job just a few months ago and remains a member of the society.

What was Shroom House’s endgame? Were they expecting to stay open forever because the cops are busy with other things, or because Portland is tolerant of psychedelics?

I think they were doing two things. They were looking to make a massive profit, which they did. And I think they wanted to push the envelope and create a decriminalization culture in Portland the same way they did in Vancouver, B.C. I think Shroom House did it a little too early in Portland.

What did we learn from Shroom House’s run?

The really important takeaway from Shroom House is that we saw thousands of people, some driving 10 hours to get this medicine. I think a lot of people are going to see this and say, “You know, we can do this the right way.”

Are we not doing it the right way with Measure 109, the 2020 initiative that made psilocybin legal in controlled, therapeutic settings?

No. If you ask the average person in Oregon what Measure 109 did, most don’t know. The Oregon Health Authority has really botched the public education opportunity they’ve had the last two years. People are so confused about what is going to happen here. They’re going to go to the next Shroom House that opens up and think they’re doing something completely fine.

What should we anticipate in January, when Measure 109 really kicks in and the state starts accepting applications for growers, service centers and trip facilitators?

There are going to be huge headlines about how now you can legally access psilocybin. But there will be an asterisk, or fine print, saying that it has to be at a regulated, licensed service center and it will cost $3,000. But a lot of people are going to read the big shiny letters. And so there’s going to be additional confusion.

You think it’s going to cost $3,000 to take mushrooms one time?

On average, I think it’s going to cost $2,000. Facilitators invest $10,000 in training. Most of them are already licensed therapists who are used to making $120 an hour. They’ll be working eight hours straight. So, that’s almost $1,000. Then you have the profits that the service center needs to make all of their overhead costs, plus taxes, regulation and licensing fees. There will be scholarships or sliding scales from some of the cooler service centers, but not nearly enough to meet demand.

What about insurance?

I think we’re at least three years away from insurance companies providing this for people. And even when it happens, it’s going to be like high-class, expensive insurance companies that are going to add this as a benefit, the same way that most insurance companies don’t offer ketamine-assisted psychotherapy.

If you could change Oregon’s psilocybin program, what would you do?

Decriminalization would come first and foremost, making sure that no additional people were prosecuted for using these safe and effective medicines. I would decriminalize cultivation, making sure that it’s OK for anybody to grow their own medicine, the same way we can with cannabis. And I would decriminalize foraging. Oregon is home to some of the most potent psychedelic mushrooms in the world. They grow in public parks. If more people were able to identify them, they could get their medicine straight from the ground when the rain comes.

So where do we go from here?

The new Colorado law allows growing and gifting. I think we’re going to see the same battle we saw early in the cannabis days, where you could buy a piece of pizza and get gifted an eighth of cannabis. In Colorado, you’re going to be able to buy a book or buy a piece of art and be gifted plant medicine by a friend or somebody running an “art gallery” that is distributing medicine in a safe way. It’ll be like a $50 sticker. You can find people doing that in Portland right now, at farmers markets.

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