Inside the Campaign to Legalize Magic Mushrooms in California

A ballot measure would create a regulatory framework for recreational sales.


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On May 7, 2019, Denver voted to become the first city in America to decriminalize magic mushrooms. On June 4, 2019, Oakland, California, decriminalized all psychedelic plants and fungi. On January 28, 2020, the neighboring Bay Area city of Santa Cruz followed suit. And now statewide efforts are underway in Washington state, Oregon, and California.

"When it comes to psychedelics, we feel people should have the freedom of choice," says Ryan Munevar, the head of Decriminalize California. "In essence, cognitive liberty." 

Now the group wants to take the psychedelic decriminalization movement a step further by convincing California voters not only to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession and consumption of psychedelics but to create a legal framework for commercial sales via ballot initiative.

"We realized, all right, let's make sure nobody else goes to jail for this. Let's give it a proper, regulated system," says Munevar. "And we realized in order to do that, you'd actually have to, in essence, legalize sales."

But this approach is controversial within the movement. "We led from a place of love—that is we didn't push commodification. We pushed equitable access and just decriminalizing our relationship with nature," says Carlos Plazola, head of Decriminalize Nature. "The city basically said, 'We recognize the healing effect of these plants.' So the citizenry hears that and says, 'Oh, I'm, I'm curious now.' And because it's sanctioned…people are stepping into those healing spaces with less fear," says Plazola.

Plazola is a veteran political operative in Oakland who runs his operation out of the Haven, a community center that serves as a hub for members of the Bay Area's psychedelic community. They gather to share their experiences and participate in so-called integrative circles.

"People come and talk about their psychedelic experiences and unpack them in a supportive group setting," says Danielle Negrin of San Francisco Psychedelic Society.

The gatherings are geared towards those who've had intense trips and want to share information about the application of psychedelics in therapy and addiction treatment, says Negrin.

"Decriminalization is a risk reduction strategy," says Larry Norris of ERIE, which also facilitates integration circles. "We're allowing people to feel less concerned about the risk they might [face] for coming out." 

Norris favors decriminalization over legalization, in part because the latter would require the state to create a regulatory framework.

"We believe in an inalienable right to have our own relationship to nature," says Norris. "There's no reason for us to have to go to a dispensary or go to a pharmaceutical company to get the things that we can grow out of the ground."

Dr. Charles Grob, director of adolescent and child psychiatry at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, is worried that the decriminalization and legalization movements could undermine the significant progress made in the field of psychedelic research.

"My concern is, to what degree will it attract the attention of individuals who…don't understand how to optimally structure the experience," says Charles Grob, who co-authored a landmark study funded by Heffter Research Institute involving the dosing of terminal cancer patients with psilocybin.

Grob wants psychedelics to be used primarily in clinical settings for now.

"What we observed [in the cancer study] was that our subjects…were in [a] great existential crisis. Their sense of self had eroded….There was often a sense of loss of meaning, loss of purpose," says Grob.

He says that after one to two psychotherapy-assisted psilocybin sessions, patients showed a measurable decrease in anxiety and were often able to "reestablish that sense of self, continuity with the previous parts of their lives, and strengthen their sense of meaning and purpose."

Grob is one of many scientists doing psychedelic research, a field that has experienced several breakthroughs in recent years.

Much of this research is thanks to the decades-long effort of the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

MAPS has funded studies treating PTSD in veterans with MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy. The results were so promising that the FDA designated it a "breakthrough therapy," fast-tracking the approval process so that the treatment could be available by as early as 2021, pending completion of phase 3 clinical trials.

Grob is wary of making psychedelics available for purchase to the public without guidance from experienced professionals in a clinical setting.

"Nothing is without risk," says Grob, who has published research about adverse interactions between certain psychedelics and SSRI antidepressants. 

"Some people are simply too vulnerable," says Grob. "Some individuals have some underlying risk for psychotic illness….[Users] need to be in a very quiet setting, ideally out in nature, but protected. You're with someone at all times who is not tripping." 

But Munevar from Decriminalize California worries that legalizing only medical uses would be too restrictive.

The cost of therapy "eliminates a lot of people, which means basically only rich white people would be able to use it," says Munevar.

Norris agrees that barriers to entry need to be lowered.

"This is a people's movement," says Norris."There's a much broader range of people who maybe can't get into the cultural ethos of a clinical system, maybe can't afford a clinical system." 

And Negrin points out that people have long been consuming psychedelics and that they will continue to do so, regardless of the legal status.

"It's been happening for thousands of years. People have been working with psychedelics and healing with these medicines," she says. "Are we going to accept that that's happening or are we going to ignore that that's happening?"

Grob acknowledges that psychedelics have been used "since time immemorial by indigenous peoples," but says that in those cultures they were used "within the context of ritual ceremony."

"We live in a very different culture, where all bets are off, and a lot of the built-in safety features you're going to find in indigenous cultures surrounding the use of powerful sacred plants do not necessarily exist."

The California attorney general's office approved the psychedelic legalization initiative's language in early January, and the campaign is currently collecting the 625,000 signatures it needs to qualify for the ballot. Munevar believes this is the biggest challenge the campaign will face.

"This thing is won or lost in the next five months as it is," says Munevar.  

Plazola hopes that the decriminalization movement doesn't stop with Oakland, with California, or with the U.S.

"My hope for the next five years for the decriminalization movement is that it's an international movement, that it's being talked about at the United Nations," says Plazola. Psychedelics "never should have been made illegal to begin with, nor should any relationship between humans and nature be made illegal."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by John Osterhoust, James Lee Marsh, and Weissmueller. Additional sound editing by Ian Keyser. 

Photo credits: Magic mushroom in the forest, Photo 42494972 © Kmetix,


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  1. Who tests to confirm that the mushrooms are indeed magical?

      1. My last pay check was $8750 just ecom working 12 hours for every week. My neighbor have found the estimation of $15k for a long time and she works around 20 hours for seven days. OPt I can not trust how direct it was once I tried it information…… Click here

    1. My solution to the great cultural divide is get a bunch of liberals and conservatives in the same room and have them trip on some mushrooms together.

  2. “My concern is, to what degree will it attract the attention of individuals who…don’t understand how to optimally structure the experience,”

    ” unlike myself, who totally understands. Why, I have optimally structured my entire life experience.”

    1. Yeah that’s where I stopped reading.

      There’s no right way to do psychedelics, that experience is different for everyone. A heroic dose alone or a mild dose at a music festival can both be great experiences, or either one of them could go south.

      These people aren’t libertarian allies on the subject. They don’t want you to be free to consume what you’d like, they just want to change who’s controlling it.

      1. These people aren’t libertarian allies on the subject. They don’t want you to be free to consume what you’d like, they just want to change who’s controlling it.

        ^ This. It’s the medicalization of psychedelics, which shouldn’t be condoned.

        For one, I personally prefer not to be “with someone at all times who is not tripping.” It’s a drag.

        Likewise, I’ve known some of these “too vulnerable” people who should stay away from it, or only do a little bit with a trusted guide to talk them back from the ledge if need be.

        1. I can appreciate what he’s saying due to your last point there, some people shouldn’t trip alone. That doesn’t mean it should be illegal for them to do so, just that it’s a bad idea.

          I also agree about the sober companion point, interacting with sober people is fucking weird if you’re tripping. Back in the times when I did these things, I preferred to either do it alone or only be around other people who were also tripping. My solo trips were by far the most meaningful and useful after the fact, this guy would remove that possibility and for that he can go fuck himself with a rusty cactus.

        2. Why isn’t medicalization better than total prohibition? If you could make just one person’s action legal, isn’t that better than no persons?

          1. I mean more in experiential terms than legal ones.

      2. And profit from the movement

    2. I see the point they were making. Lots of knowledge inside of them. If you’re 15 and scarf down 5g’s you’re going to be handed years of wisdom instantly. You are not going to be fucking ready for that. Then that results in doing stupid shit like following some form of the band Phish on tour for 20 years and fucking up any stability you could have had. Then you beg for freebies. Uh oh. Going into a thought loop.

      1. I dunno. My first acid trip was at 14 and 100% solo. I don’t know how much wisdom I gained, but it was fun as hell. Watched Pee Wee’s Playhouse, laughed my ass off the whole time, and then went outside and played with my dog all day.

  3. If they already deprioritized psychedelics, how can “a legal framework for commercial sales” be a step further? Yes, deprioritization keeps them illegal, but “a legal framework for commercial sales” just adds more ways to be illegal. A simpler example of government at work is harder to find.

    1. but “a legal framework for commercial sales” just adds more ways to be illegal.

      True that. But it also creates favored constituencies and opportunities for rent seeking, regulatory capture, and bureaucratic growth.

      Which, to a politician sounds just dandy.

      1. The movement in Oakland is about dollars and political power.

    2. Because something being low priority but still illegal doesn’t mean people can open a store.

      I get what you’re saying, all the regulation is hardly libertarian or desirable, but the end state is that the regulation makes things more available than leaving them technically illegal does. Just leaving it alone altogether and letting people do as they please would obviously be the best way to go about it, but that isn’t the world we live in.

      1. Yeah – it’s a choice between “every little bit of it is illegal” and “sometimes it’s not totally illegal.”

        1. I live in Colorado, and after Denver decriminalized mushrooms I had a friend planning a visit out here ask about it. I told him he wouldn’t get arrested for them, but it’s not like weed where there’s a shop on every corner. He didn’t get any mushrooms while he was out here because he didn’t know anyone who could get them.

          That’s the difference. If they were legal but heavily regulated, there’d have been a shop for him to go to. No one’s setting up a store front while it’s still technically a crime to do so.

          This is often a problem that libertarians have, we let perfection be the enemy of good. We’re not getting from where we are now to complete legalization in 1 step, you gotta move that ball a few yards at a time.

          1. ” If they were legal but heavily regulated, there’d have been a shop for him to go to.”

            You’d yoke everyone so that he could wear the model of his choosing?

            1. In this regard, everyone is already yoked.

              1. And will never be anything but when people acquiesce to permission, an Express admission that what they do is within their purview.

                1. Oh, horse shit. Like when somebody holds you up with a gun, you should insist on getting shot instead of handing it over? You think the rape victim who didn’t fight and get injured is at fault in the rape?

                  1. Wow, now that’s grade A horseshit.

        2. Exactly. Some of the people in this thread are like it’s bad to free one slave, because it leaves all the other slaves slaves. Why isn’t the world better with that person not being a slave, compared to the world where that person is a slave?

  4. So the word “legalize” means “to regulate and tax in the most inefficient manner possible”?

    1. Yup. unreason and other media call it “legalization” when it is decriminalization and/or deregulation.

      Until drugs are treated like any other product like apparel or buying products at yard sales, I will never call what they are doing “drug legalization”.

    2. There is an issue with that. On the east coast our flower beds and lawns are filled with them twice a year. I had some trees cut down, shredded, and left the chips in a pile towards the edge of my property. While walking my dog I noticed that the massive mound of wood chips was covered with mushrooms. Thousands of them.

      They’re everywhere and they always have been. You just have to look. Hard to regulate when they happen naturally against your will and without any effort on your part.

      1. I doubt any of those were hallucinogenic.

        But yes, they are everywhere. So much so that the law in Florida includes an intent aspect – otherwise every cattle rancher would be guilty at one time or another. Because the recipe for magic mushrooms down there is manure and rain.

        1. Psilocybe semilanceata. We have about 4 other kinds, but that’s the most common here.

          1. On wood chips? Doubtful. Maybe one of the others. Caps that small can be tricky.

            1. Did some research (Mushrooms Demystified, D. Arora) – if they are psilocybes they are probably P. Caerulipes.

      2. I get Fly Agaric in my backyard all the time. But I’m not touching it.

        1. Gorgeous, I’ve handled plenty with no noticeable effects. Never dared eat one, far too unpredictable for me.

  5. only rich white people would be able to use it

    Rich black people would be forbidden?

    1. Silly you. Once you become wealthy and start to do things white people do you are no longer black.

    2. The demographic of wealthy African Americans and Latinos to generational wealth or new money wealth of Caucasians is vast. Poc aren’t included within this movement nor do they have space to speak up. This video is a prime example of that.

  6. So what’s “Decriminalize Nature”s opinion of decriminalizing the Papaver somniferum plant and the Erythroxylum coca plant? I’d guess Olympic quality gymnastics to explain why *those* plants should still be denied to people.

    1. They keep talking about psychedelics too, but they’re only acting on mushrooms. There’s a lot more to that family than fungus.

      Doesn’t seem like they have a good understanding of why legalization should occur, just general hippy bullshit about how It GrOwS fRoM tHe gRoUnD so that’s why it’s OK.

      1. Yeah, I have no doubt that among the mushroom crowd there are large numbers who think the active ingredients are not chemicals. Or that they are somehow different because they are ‘natural.’

        1. I always liked Abbie Hoffman’s response to “natural is always better for you:”

          “You know what else is natural? Hemlock.”

      2. There’s no “good reason” for progress on liberty. I don’t care why they want it legal. Whatever they say, yeah. Just get it done.

        I don’t care whether Trump has an ideology, either. I just like most of the results, and the contrast with history has been striking.

  7. Wonderful. Yet more self-indulgent shit from California about how they are racing ahead to fuck things up first.

    Just fucking die already Californians

  8. I wish this video included more poc and the underground movement of these plants within California. People pushing for changes yet those serving and advocating for an inclusive structure, not included?

    Do more research and speak to more Boots on the ground before releasing this “journalism piece”.

    1. How is “this should be legal for everyone” not “inclusive?”

      1. Maybe because the majority of the people pushing for this change (legalization, regulation or decrim) are white males?

        1. Gosh, we can’t have that, can we? White people are terrible!

        2. Maybe because the majority of the people pushing for this change (legalization, regulation or decrim) are white males?

          Are they forbidding anyone else from being involved? Are they saying decriminalization should be for white people only?

          I think you’re trying a little too hard to find a racist angle on this, where there just really doesn’t seem to be one.

          1. I’m sure POC and Latinos sitting in prison due to the war on drugs and communities disenfranchised aren’t left out, as well. There are people in this community, with social and Poltical power, pushing for a spectrum are just racist as well? Poor white people

  9. Norris favors decriminalization over legalization, in part because the latter would require the state to create a regulatory framework.

    Why? Is it just how people are using the words?

    I’m afraid there may be equivocation or other weaponizing of the language afoot. Make a word mean a certain thing, then use other people’s use of the word as an indicator that they mean what you do?

  10. Aren’t people from the land of fruits and nuts batty enough without legalized psychedelics?

  11. Decriminalization after the Oakland model might win an Initiative vote. A working model exists and no harm has resulted. Legalization is a bridge too far at this point for the electorate. It may even be a bridge too far for potential petition-signers. OTOH, maybe a failed legalization initiative will soften up the electorate for the next time around, as happened in California with the marijuana legalization initiative.

    Decriminalization of mushrooms would, in practical terms, be more “freeing” than decriminalization of marijuana, because it’s nearly foolproof and inexpensive to grow one’s own with a $30 spore kit in an apartment. That can’t be said of growing marijuana.

    I’m not a libertarian. I think “society” has an interest in regulating access to drugs that have a significant potential for harm. (Nearly all voters agree.) One may not store gasoline in one’s basement for that reason, or buy dynamite without jumping through some hoops. Addictive and potentially incapacitating or deadly drugs like opiods and cocaine should not be available over-the-counter.

    Drugs that are “dynamite,” like psychedelics, should not be available over-the-counter either. But access to them needn’t be “medicalized”—instead, it could / should be through clinics headed by psychologists and staffed with good guides, even if uncredentialed. The cost for a session would hopefully be under $1000. Less if some billionaire subsidized them. Meantime, put it on your Discover card. (-:

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  14. Doesn’t benefit wealthy landowners. Federal Pacific panel So that’s going to be a no

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