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San Francisco Becomes Latest City to Decriminalize Entheogenic Plants as Legalization Movement Grows

Another domino in the fight for psychedelic legalization took a tumble on Wednesday as another major municipality took a step in favor of entheogenic plants.  

San Francisco was not willing to wait for action on the state level, as the city’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to decriminalize psychedelics at Wednesday’s meeting. Beyond instructions making psychedelics the “ lowest law enforcement priority for the City,” the measure goes a step further, and encourages legalization on both the state and national level. 

The measure was passed during the “For Adoption Without Committee Meeting” portion of Wednesday’s meeting, and signaled the city’s willingness to make moves in wake of a lack of action on the state level. With no resistance from the 11-member board, it’s hard to call the action anything short of a full-court press for legalization. 

In the text of the resolution, the board goes substance-by-substance to advocate for the use of entheogenic plants as part of modern medicine treatments. The text specifically mentions a “lack of clarity” from higher authorities, which is why the resolution said further guidance is necessary to benefit “those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants” but says the current state of the law forces patients to “use them in fear of arrest and prosecution”. 

The action taken by the board even details how each substance should be viewed as potential treatment options. Ibogaine can be used for treatment-resistant addictions and PTSD, the resolution states. Ayahuasca and its root substance (DMT) are also listed as another potential treatment for PTSD and other mental health conditions. Psilocybin is listed as a way for end-of-life patients to find relief from anxiety, and also floated as a possible way to curb prison recidivism and cluster headaches. 

With backing from medical research at Johns Hopkins University, the resolution makes its stance clear: “The use of Entheogenic Plants (sic) have been shown to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”

Those sentiments were echoed by one of the resolution’s two sponsors, supervisor Dean Preston, who issued a statement to the local CBS station on the heels of the unmitigated effort of the local board to decriminalize psychedelics in the city. 

“San Francisco joins a growing list of cities and countries that are taking a fresh look at these plant-based medicines, following science and data, and destigmatizing their use and cultivation. Today’s unanimous vote is an exciting step forward,” he said. 

As the United States grapples with the question of psychedelic legalization, the back-and-forth nature of California’s attempts have been emblematic of how the question is playing out across the country. 

Earlier this year, the state saw two different attempts at legalization derailed at different stages of the process. The first was a voter-initiated measure that was granted permission to gather signatures but fell short of making it to the ballot. More recently, a measure to decriminalize psychedelics in the state assembly, one that was deemed a “two-year bill” by its sponsor, was gutted last month to the point it was withdrawn. 

Scott Wiener was the state senator behind that effort, known as SB519, and his attempt was specifically referenced in the resolution passed by the city. Wiener’s district includes San Francisco, and was credited as starting “the conversation around the decriminalization of personal possession of small amounts of seven psychedelic substances for adults.”

If the inclusion of SB519 wasn’t enough signaling by the state’s fourth largest city, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors also used the resolution as an attempt to address ongoing questions around religious use of entheogenic plants. One clause within the decree specifically mentions that psychedelics are “already explicitly protected in the U.S. under the doctrine of religious freedom” and references the landmark Supreme Court case establishing religious use of banned substances. 

It goes a step further in taking an extra clause to clarify that the “United Nations considers Entheogenic Plant material used for ritual purposes as excluded from Schedule 1 substances.” All of this comes on the heels of an Oakland-area church suing the city and its police department after a 2018 raid. 

Citizens of San Francisco also used the resolution as a chance to express their support for the decriminalization of entheogenic plants. All eight public comments on the resolution were in support of decriminalization. Those voices in support thanked both Preston and co-sponsor Hillary Ronen, and represented a variety of activists and citizens hoping that San Francisco could “continue its legacy” as a community that welcomes the potential of natural medicine. 

“We are in unusual times right now with increases in mental health issues, substance use issues and general needs for personal and spiritual growth over the past few years,” said Dr. Larry Norris, who spoke during Wednesday’s public comment. “Wouldn’t it be incredible if there was something that could help support these issues?” 

“Well there is. Entheogenic plants and fungi are being researched for a multitude of conditions. And outside of the positive emerging scientific research, we have countless testimonies worldwide of people with significant life transformation after these experiences… How can we continue criminalizing folks for seeking alternative modes of healing and growth? This is based on bad policy from another era, and we have the opportunity to finally change that.” 

Author

  • Patrick Radigan is a recovering sports journalist who had his eyes opened to the world of drug policy reform while covering a court case of a cannabis consultant found not guilty on trumped up possession charges. Since that case, he's covered legalization issues in multiple states, monitored tribal movements in the legal cannabis space and is now turning his attention to the wide spectrum of legalization and policy matters surrounding natural medicine alternatives. Patrick has written stories for newsprint, shot video for television news and got his start covering biofuels and soil science for a climate magazine. Originally from South Dakota, Pat earned a pair of journalism degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and now resides in Colorado.