Nearly 20 years ago, Harvard undergraduate Joe Green turned down a business opportunity from his college roommate, a then-unknown computer geek named Mark Zuckerberg. The decision to walk away from the offer to run Facebook’s business operations, in exchange for 4% to 6% of the company, cost Green anywhere from $3 billion to $30 billion, depending on whom you ask.
Today, Green’s not passing up the chance to be an early funder of another first-of-its-kind industry: psilocybin, the hallucinogenic compound derived from “magic mushrooms.”
In 2018, tax records show, Green co-founded the Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Santa Cruz, Calif. The other founder is Graham Boyd, a lawyer who worked for the American Civil Liberties Union’s national campaign to reform drug laws and provided legal counsel to billionaire philanthropist Peter Lewis in his efforts to end cannabis prohibition.
Part of PSFC’s mission has been to get Food and Drug Administration approval for psychedelic compounds like MDMA. In recent months, these Silicon Valley investors have turned their eyes to California’s northern border—and Oregon’s nascent psilocybin market.
Last week, the state’s top psilocybin adviser, Tom Eckert, resigned from his role as chair of the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board amid scrutiny by WW and other news media of possible personal and professional conflicts of interest. His departure was a reminder that psilocybin legalization in Oregon isn’t just the new frontier for consciousness expansion: It’s potentially a $1 billion industry that could be a windfall to those who run it.
An examination by WW of stakeholders seeking an audience with state health officials shows California psychedelics investors are not just watching Oregon’s mushroom experiment—they want to participate in it, too.
That’s because they plan to reproduce it in other states.
In November 2020, almost 1.3 million Oregonians voted yes on Ballot Measure 109, effectively legalizing the supervised use of psilocybin. Following the measure’s passage, PSFC began pursuing what Boyd describes as “parallel tracks” for psychedelics: FDA approval and state-by-state legalization.
“To me, the promise of Oregon is tremendous in terms of public health. I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s also really hard,” Boyd tells WW. “It’s a long list of stuff that has to be figured out, and that doesn’t just happen spontaneously or by magic. That’s real work that requires expertise. It also requires financial support for all of those areas. And so PSFC made a decision to support that.”
In 2020, the organization helped raise about $30 million for the internationally recognized Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, to fund Phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA-assisted therapy.
In its most recent filing with the Internal Revenue Service, PSFC reported over $6.6 million in revenue for the 2019 tax year. A notable portion of the organization’s money has been funneled to Oregon.
A month after the psilocybin measure passed, campaign manager Sam Chapman formed the Healing Advocacy Fund, also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, “to protect the spirit and the intent of Measure 109 as passed by Oregon voters throughout and beyond the implementation process,” Chapman tells WW, “to ensure that the program is safe, effective and accessible for all who stand to benefit.”
To date, the Healing Advocacy Fund has raised approximately $1 million, the vast majority of which came from its partner, PSFC.
Boyd says a lot of that funding is paying the salaries of HAF employees and contractors. But, both groups assert, it’s not just about the money.
“As PSFC, we decide who we want to fund. And when we do that, it’s a deep relationship,” Boyd says. “We don’t just write checks and, you know, send them the money and say, ‘See you later.’ It is a relationship in which we are connecting to our groups of experts and we offer our advice.”
PSFC is not shy about its intent to replicate Oregon’s psilocybin model throughout the U.S. In fact, that plan is one of two “key priorities” outlined in the organization’s 2021 online annual report: to “ensur[e] Oregon’s psilocybin therapy program provides a high-quality model for psychedelic healing in a non-prescription context that could be replicated in other states.”
Chapman says being funded primarily by Silicon Valley investors does not put the Healing Advocacy Fund at odds with the group’s mission to “protect the spirit and the intent of Measure 109 as passed by Oregon voters.”
“I don’t actually think it has to do so much with where people are coming from,” he says, “but rather there’s an opportunity here in Oregon to prove a model that works and that can actually help people. And that’s what they’re interested in funding.”
So what, precisely, are the groups hoping to accomplish in their efforts to support the “implementation process” of Measure 109?
One answer: data.
“One of the things that I believe the good system in Oregon needs is data collection,” Boyd says. “And that data collection needs to protect people’s privacy. So it can’t be personally identifiable. I think it needs to be data that’s in the public good. So it should be at a university or in the government’s hands—something like that rather than a private company doing it for profit.”
PSFC combed through its national network to bring in “some internationally recognized leaders on data” to help advise Oregon, Boyd says.
Some of those conversations have taken place between outside experts and affiliates of Oregon Health & Science University, the largest research institution in the state, according to Boyd. “Now there are some really good, rich discussions happening with people at OHSU around data collection.”
He declined to name the OHSU affiliates who have spoken with PSFC’s experts, or to say whether any of those affiliates are also on the Psilocybin Advisory Board, which is crafting Oregon’s psilocybin policy.
The board’s final recommendations will be made to the Oregon Health Authority by June of this year. Ultimately, OHA is the final decision maker on the matter. The Healing Advocacy Fund is not directly connected to the Psilocybin Advisory Board, though it’s worth noting that former board chair Tom Eckert spearheaded the ballot measure alongside his late wife, Sheri Eckert. The pair worked closely with Chapman during the campaign.
It is unclear what impact PSFC’s efforts might have on the state’s psilocybin rulemaking process, if any. But it’s also worth noting that Chapman’s group meets as often as once a month with Oregon Psilocybin Services officials at OHA, says health authority spokesman Jonathan Modie.
“OPS has a monthly check-in with Healing Advocacy Fund,” Modie says.
Chapman says he meets with OHA staff behind closed doors on an “as-needed basis,” and those discussions pertain to ensuring the implementation process happens on schedule.
“We’re not here to influence the process,” Chapman says. “We’re here to ensure that the program is operational and successful, and defining success is easier said than done.”
Asked why HAF has these conversations behind closed doors rather than during public Psilocybin Advisory Board meetings, Chapman says, “The board is very constrained for time and focused on exactly what they need to do.”
The Healing Advocacy Fund has also been in contact with the governor’s office. “I can confirm that our office has communicated with Sam Chapman as an advocate on cannabis and psilocybin issues, just as we have many other stakeholders on a variety of issues,” says spokesman Charles Boyle.
And HAF has taken its efforts to Salem. During the previous legislative session, OHA requested $2.2 million to hire 14 full-time employees who would develop and implement the ballot measure. HAF lobbied for OHA to receive that funding, the organization tells WW.
There is one final through-line that draws all the groups together: David Bronner, the “cosmic engagement officer” of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, who happens to be a longtime advocate of the psychedelics legalization movement in the U.S.
Bronner is on the board of MAPS, the Psychedelic Science Funders Collaborative and the Healing Advocacy Fund. He is also one of the major donors of the Sheri Eckert Foundation, which Eckert formed to honor his late wife. Eckert, who plans to begin operating his own psilocybin facilitator training program as early as this summer, hopes the foundation will act as a scholarship fund to help offset the cost of such training programs. (Bronner did not respond to WW’s request for comment.).
As of February, the fund had raised $170,000, Eckert told WW during an interview last month.
“We have new conversations,” Eckert said. “We’ll wait on those. But David has pledged formally.”
Correction: Due to an editor’s error, this story initially described Joe Green as investing in Oregon’s psilocybin market. He has funded the nonprofit that is heavily involved in Oregon’s psilocybin implementation process.