At last, a new era for entheogenic plants has begun.
A term used to categorize plants with the power to give consumers a spiritual experience, the word “entheogen” literally translates to “creating the divine within.” Practically speaking, today we employ the word to denote a group of naturally occurring, plant-based compounds and traditional psychedelic preparations, such as psilocybin, mescaline, and ayahuasca.
As discourse surrounding the subject evolves, a pivot from the term “psychedelics” to “entheogens” is but one of many ways Decriminalize Nature is hoping to evolve both the conversation and safe access to a class of plants humans have continued to consume since prehistoric times.
Recently, the educational campaign has succeeded in getting entheogens decriminalized in local jurisdictions, including Santa Cruz and Oakland. Their efforts aren’t limited to California, however, as the results of Tuesday’s election made clear. Voters in Washington, D.C., and Oregon approved legislation aimed at improving access to psychedelic therapies and destigmatizing drug use.
In D.C., voters approved Initiative 81, which will decriminalize naturally-occurring entheogens. That effort was spearheaded by Decriminalize Nature DC’s Melissa Lavasani. Across the country, the Oregon Psilocybin Therapy Initiative — which allows adults to access magic mushrooms in a medically supervised environment — also succeeded. Oregon’s support for drug policy reform also extended to Measure 110, which essentially decriminalizes possession of small amounts of all illicit drugs.
Taken together, the will of the voters on Tuesday night bodes well for ongoing efforts to further expand access and evolve policy when it comes to entheogenic plants. That’s why, according to Decriminalize Nature national board chair Carlos Plazola, things may be about to change in San Francisco as well.
“We have a call next week with District Attorney [Chesa Boudin],” Plazola tells SF Weekly, “in which we hope to do the same thing we recently did in Ann Arbor.”
The idea is to essentially convince progressive district attorneys to make investigation and prosecution of crimes related to entheogenic plants their city’s lowest law enforcement priority. In September, that’s what Ann Arbor’s City Council in Michigan voted unanimously to do. Citing Boudin’s track record on drug policy reform thus far, Plazola expressed optimism that San Francisco’s newly-appointed DA will be open to a similar arrangement.
As things stand, Decriminalize Nature is currently working to change policy with a trio of options. The pitch to Boudin will be for a resolution to be passed, which is the path Santa Cruz, Oakland, and Ann Arbor all chose. Alternatively, on a state level, changes to California law might also come from a citizen-led initiative (as was the case in Oregon and D.C.).
One issue Plazola has with the way Oregon approached legalizing psilocybin is that the measure fails to take community-based methodologies into account. By requiring that the substance be administered by a physician, he argues, it eliminates consideration for the traditions and validity of other practitioners like shamans.
“Oregon came at this from a clinical approach,” he explains, “but with Oakland, we did things from the bottom-up.”
Part of Decriminalize Nature’s emphasis on moving methodically stems from worries that any advances in entheogenic plant reform will risk a takeover from corporate interests. Plazola has firsthand experience with such fallout, having worked as a lobbyist on behalf of cannabis legalization before netting his own permit for a dispensary in 2012.
“During that process,” he recalls, “I saw the greed that allowed corporate interests to thrive.”
In 2018, a pair of transformative experiences — first with magic mushrooms, and later with ayahuasca — inspired Plazola to take the lead to ensure safe access to entheogens without opening the door for a redux of the legalized cannabis industry. Thus, an approach that prioritizes decriminalization versus one geared at all-out legalization.
Ahead of Plazola’s call with Boudin, currently scheduled for Nov. 12, he encouraged advocates for the cause to express their support to the District Attorney’s office.
At the same time, Plazola is also putting the finishing touches on what he’s labeled a “potentially historic” Oakland ordinance. Targeting a change to the municipal code, the ordinance intends to establish a set of basic protocols for community-based ceremonies. It is Plazola’s hope that, should the ordinance take hold, it can then be expanded into a framework suitable for implementation at a statewide level.
Ideally, a nationwide adaptation of Decriminalize Nature’s “grow-gather-gift mantra” — which stresses a communal approach to cultivation and commerce with regard to entheogenic plants — would eventually follow.
“Our intention is to show that these ancient ways of healing are also worthy of supporting,” he said. “We want to establish a baseline approach because it’s the marginalized, unhoused, and minority populations who tend to prefer community-based treatment to a clinic setting.”