Psilocybin Advocates Make Push as November Election Brings Local Efforts to Opt Out of Measure 109

People seeking therapy with magic mushrooms might be in for long drives.

Field Trip Health Field Trip Health, which plans to enter Oregon's psilocybin industry, currently operates about a dozen ketamine service centers in North America. (Courtesy of Field Trip Health)

For many Oregonians, magic mushrooms are on the ballot this November—again.

The initiative that legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin allows cities and counties to opt out, prohibiting the manufacture and use of the compound. To do so, local governments must get approval from voters, and some 100 cities and 26 counties have opt-out measures on the November ballot.

Among them are many places where Measure 109 passed, including Clackamas, Clatsop, Columbia, Deschutes and Jackson counties, and the cities of Coos Bay, McMinnville and Philomath.

As one might expect, Multnomah County has no opt-out on the ballot. In August, Washington County commissioners voted 3-2 to allow psilocybin businesses to operate in unincorporated parts of the county, as planned under Measure 109, defeating a resolution that would have sent it back to voters.

The Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, meantime, voted unanimously to send an opt-out measure to voters. County Chair Tootie Smith and Vice Chair Martha Schrader paid to put a notice in the county Voters’ Pamphlet making the case against Measure 109.

“Oregon has a poor track record of being the first state to implement different measures and policies,” they wrote. “M109 is yet another experiment with unknown consequences and side effects.”

Much of the concern about psilocybin use in rural counties stems from fear that it will become as omnipresent and unregulated as cannabis, says Sam Chapman, executive director of the Healing Advocacy Fund, a nonprofit group that supports responsible implementation of Measure 109.

Unlike cannabis, Oregon law does not allow retail sales of psilocybin. Anyone using the drug must do so at a state-certified facility with a trained facilitator. Manufacturing requires yet another license.

“This is a licensed, regulated program,” Chapman said on a conference call with local leaders who favor keeping their communities under the Measure 109 umbrella.

They called upon voters to reject the opt-out measures, saying that they would penalize people in rural areas who are suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and end-of-life anxiety, all conditions that psilocybin has been shown to help.

“If you don’t want this therapy, you don’t have to get it,” said Ashland Mayor Julie Akins. But those voters shouldn’t restrict psilocybin use by people in their community who need it, she said.

Jackson, the county that includes Ashland, has a measure on the ballot that would prohibit psilocybin use. Local statutes take priority of county ones in this case, so psilocybin manufacturing sites and therapy centers will be allowed to operate there, regardless. But rural parts of Jackson County would be become no-mushroom zones if county Measure 203 passes.

“If the county opts out, that creates an unusual situation for us,” Akins said.

In Ontario, Measure 109 supporters face an even steeper climb. Only 31% of voters in Malheur County supported the statewide measure, and an opt-out is on the ballot countywide and in the city.

Ontario City Councilor Michael Braden said voters there were “trepidatious” after seeing cannabis dispensaries pop up all over, leading to “rampant use” in their neighborhoods. Like Chapman, Braden says such concerns are misplaced because the psilocybin law prohibits retail sales.

“Measure 109 uses psilocybin as a medicine,” Braden said.

Another drug initiative has made many Oregonians wary of legalization in any form. Measure 110 reduced penalties for possession of hard drugs, including cocaine, heroin and LSD. This election season, many politicians have called for its repeal, saying that it has turned Oregon into a drug paradise.

In June, Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan tweeted that it was a “complete policy failure.” The state should invest in addiction-recovery programs, “but I believe we can do that without enabling a culture of drug abuse to persist on our streets.”

Healing Advocacy Fund’s Chapman says he expects the first psilocybin therapy centers to open in the middle of next year. So far, at least two training programs for psychedelic facilitators have been approved by state regulators, one run by a company called InnerTrek and another by a group called Fluence.

Facilitators help patients prepare for psilocybin trips, sit with them during the experience, then help them integrate any insights they gain into their daily lives.

Depending on how opt-out measures fare, many Oregonians may be driving miles for the experience.

Correction: This post originally misspelled the names of Mayor Julie Akins and City Councilor Michael Braden. WW regrets the errors.

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