Why We Support the 2020 Ballot Measure that Would Legalize & Regulate Psilocybin Therapy in Oregon

Dr. Bronner’s Donates $150,000 in Matching Funds to Support Signature Drive

Last night it was my honor to join Tom and Sheri Eckert, experienced Portland-based therapists who are the chief petitioners for Oregon’s statewide ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin-assisted therapy, as they welcomed famed mycologist Paul Stamets and special guests for an event at the Newmark Theatre in Portland. At the event, they announced the launch of a signature drive for the Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative (PSI 2020), and I announced our company’s matching contribution of $150,000 to the initiative.

My family is no stranger to severe depression and anxiety. We understand the pain and frustration of many Americans for whom current treatments do not work—for whom pharma drugs provide too little relief and too many undesirable side effects. We yearn for better solutions, and we firmly believe that the integration of psilocybin therapy, to which the FDA recently granted a special “breakthrough designation,” is crucial to healing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction. Clinical trials at major universities have found promising results. This therapy appears to enable people to process difficult and traumatic emotions and experiences, break destructive patterns of thought and behavior—and to love, integrate and forgive themselves and each other. People connect to the deeper spiritual ground of their being and to the miraculous living natural world we are one with.

No better insight into the healing potential of psilocybin therapy can be found than in Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking cover article in the New Yorker, “The Trip Treatment,” followed by his excellent book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.” Together they have sparked a serious national conversation about how important it is to integrate psychedelic therapy into mainstream culture in a responsible way.

As the Eckerts explain on the PSI 2020 website: “The intent of the 2020 Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon is to advance a breakthrough therapeutic model currently being perfected in research settings at top universities around the world. The service model involves a sequence of facilitated sessions, including assessment and preparation, psilocybin administration, and post-therapy integration. We envision a community-based framework, where licensed providers, along with licensed producers of psilocybin mushrooms, blaze trails in Oregon in accordance with evolving practice standards.”

Highlights of the 2020 Oregon Psilocybin Service Initiative:

  • Safety, practice, and ethical standards for trained and competent facilitators
  • Services open to adults who are not medically contraindicated
  • An affordable framework outside the medical / pharma system
  • Establishes an advisory board to work with state and federal officials
  • An extended development period so the state health department can successfully roll out the program
  • Prohibition of cannabis-style branding and marketing of psilocybin products

We believe Oregonians, along with all Americans, are beginning to embrace psilocybin and psychedelic therapy generally. An early poll of an earlier version of the measure, that was not as tight in the therapeutic frame as the current improved measure, still showed a majority of Oregon voters in favor. Psychedelic therapy, long stigmatized and forced underground, is enjoying a surge of legitimacy and support largely as a result of:

  • The incredible clinical research on psilocybin therapy sponsored by Heffter, Usona, and others, conducted by academic researchers like Roland Griffiths (Johns Hopkins University), Charles Grob (UCLA), and Steve Ross (NYU), showing psilocybin therapy’s efficacy in healing end-of-life anxiety, major depressive disorder and addictions to alcohol and tobacco. This research has set up FDA “breakthrough status” for phase 3 trials conducted by both Usona and Compass Pathways, with full commercialization expected in 2023. (Shout out to Bob Jesse of the Council of Spiritual Practices for his strategic visionary guidance behind the scenes every step of the way).
  • The indefatigable efforts of Rick Doblin and friends at MAPS demonstrating the remarkable efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment-resistant PTSD, moving now to phase 3 clinical trials with full commercialization expected in 2021, while earning FDA’s special “breakthrough designation” status. (I’m on the board of MAPS and my family has pledged $5 million to this effort).
  • Epidemics of depression, addiction, trauma and suicide that are resistant to traditional pharmacological and talk therapies.
  • Michael Pollan’s excellent, widely-read and discussed writing on the subject.
  • Medical cannabis, formerly stigmatized as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use, now widely being accepted as a safe effective medicine for numerous acute and chronic conditions.
  • Ketamine now being widely used for depression at clinics, and also the go-to anesthetic / dissociative for military paramedics dealing with acute injury.
  • The successful and relatively non-controversial decriminalization campaign in Denver of mushrooms, followed by broader decriminalization of plant medicines in Oakland. Many more cities are expected to follow suit in 2020.
  • Johns Hopkins recent launch of a new Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research (thank you Tim Ferriss!).
  • All the other rock star leaders and efforts to communicate the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy and wisdom of plant medicine traditions over the past couple of decades, in the face of drug war hysteria and misinformation.

Considering the broader movement

I want to acknowledge the concern from various quarters in the research community invested in the FDA approval process—that Oregon’s ballot measure goes too far too fast, and threatens to create a cultural and regulatory backlash against all the progress they are making, much like occurred in the 60’s. This is largely a strategic concern, as I know that most of these researchers are aligned in terms of the ultimate goal: we all hope for a world where psilocybin therapy is widely available and accessible to all people, in responsible supervised therapeutic contexts (except for those with contra-indications like schizophrenia). Their clinical research itself is informed and inspired by the incredible work and experience of the underground psychedelic therapy community, as well as the long history of safe ceremonial indigenous use. This was certainly a legitimate concern during the height of the War on Drugs, when only careful methodical research, mostly conducted under the radar, could chart a path and make the progress we made.

But Tom and Sheri accurately see that the cultural tide is shifting, and that now is the time for a responsible measure like PSI 2020 that creates a safe, strictly regulated environment to bring the underground therapy movement aboveground, and provides an example outside of the traditional pharma model for responsible regulated adult access to psilocybin therapy. It’s also important to understand that the state ballot measure process is the only political mechanism that exists for providing this kind of broad responsible adult access. Much like the medical cannabis trajectory, passing this measure will invite federal officials to consider tolerating a responsible innovation in state law via our federalist states’ rights system, even where those state policies differ from federal policy.

Steve Ross directs the Psychedelic Research Group at NYU, where he is the principal investigator of psilocybin therapy trials for end-of-life anxiety, and closely involved in the studies for alcoholism, smoking cessation and religious professionals, and knows better than anyone both how effective this therapy is and what the mood of the FDA is. At a recent lecture series I helped organize, Steve expressed confidence in his presentation that neither Denver and Oakland’s Decriminalize Nature campaigns nor Oregon’s more careful and responsible therapeutic model, will have any effect whatsoever on the ongoing research that the FDA welcomes and authorizes in this space, or their approval of psilocybin therapy after phase 3 studies conclude. In fact, I believe a resounding yes vote by Oregonians affirming their right to access responsible psilocybin therapy will only galvanize research and interest, and send a clear message to federal regulators to allow Oregon’s program to go into effect without federal interference, much like state medical cannabis programs that also technically conflict with federal law.

Dr. Bronner’s also supports the decriminalization of mushrooms as an important incremental step to liberate this powerful medicine from draconian drug warrior control, and we were one of the top contributors to the Decriminalize Denver campaign. We are sympathetic to the idea of including decriminalization of mushrooms as a secondary adjunct to the existing Psilocybin Therapy portion of the Oregon measure.  However, we also need to be careful as a society that this powerful medicine is integrated responsibly and carefully, and that we optimize therapeutic healing outcomes for those most in need. Even people otherwise deeply experienced with psychedelics have no idea how powerful and healing a high-dose, carefully-prepared for and supervised therapeutic session can be—going inward with a blindfold, together with a trusted facilitator holding space, allowing patients to fully release into the experience. The therapeutic context developed by leading researchers at John Hopkins and NYU also minimizes what can be real bad experiences when people take this powerful medicine in uncontrolled environments, or without the proper internal preparation. Its also important to note that under Denver and Oakland’s decriminalization policy, it is still illegal to grow and sell mushrooms; purity and quality of medicine is not regulated; and in the case of Oakland, sustainable sourcing of peyote isn’t addressed (e.g., the strain placed on peyote gardens in Texas that are already in crisis is not taken into account).  Oregon’s Psilocybin Service Initiative creates a regulated framework for psilocybin therapy that will be fully legal under state law, from production and testing to delivery and administration in licensed supervised facilities.

That said, no one should go to jail for simply possessing mushrooms outside such a facility. But we were made aware by our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance that they were contemplating a separate broad-based health-based approach to drug addiction in Oregon through a separate measure. Hopefully treatment options will soon also include psilocybin therapy, which has shown so much promise in early trials on smoking cessation and alcoholism. Aside from public health, broad-based decriminalization is also a social justice issue. It’s a means to ending mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color. As a society, we need to be able to give people the help they need without destroying their lives and families. This is a much bigger concern than decriminalizing mushrooms, which are less than 0.0001% of the problem within the War on Drugs. The Drug Policy Alliance is exploring ideas that will shift Oregon policy on drug addiction to a health versus criminal approach like in Portugal. We are in solidarity with our allies at DPA on this and feel that the two campaigns perfectly complement each other, in that one of the most promising areas of psilocybin therapy is helping people end destructive patterns of emotion and thought, helping them care about their lives and the lives of those around them, and end powerful addictions to substances.

I made a handy chart here to summarize the pro’s and con’s of the FDA approval route, versus the Decriminalize Nature route that was taken in Denver and Oakland, versus what I believe to be the visionary direction that the Oregon PSI 2020 campaign is taking. The reality is that they all will proceed side by side in our culture, ultimately being complementary and helpful to one another. For all these reasons, my expectation is that movement concerns about Oregon’s measure will rapidly evaporate in favor of a broad consensus that this is indeed a strategic tightly-regulated and well-timed model to introduce into the culture, of responsible adult access to psilocybin therapy outside the pharma medical system. This measure is at the leading edge of the psychedelic therapeutic renaissance, and we should join together to restore hope, health and joy to so many of our suffering brothers and sisters. All-One!

Author Profile
David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

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  • Panimus

    Hi David,

    All well and good, however, when you speak of the DPA as in this quote:

    That said, no one should go to jail for simply possessing mushrooms outside such a facility. But we were made aware by our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance that they were contemplating a separate broad-based health-based approach to drug addiction in Oregon through a separate measure.

    The operative word is “contemplating.”

    And again you go further and say:

    The Drug Policy Alliance is exploring ideas that will shift Oregon policy on drug addiction to a health versus criminal approach like in Portugal.

    The operative word here is “exploring.”

    For you to say that the DPA is “exploring” and “contemplating” some other initiative, as a way to justify the Oregon initiative’s removal of decriminalization in favor of NO decriminalization is disingenuous at best.

    Basically, the DPA is going to do absolutely nothing in this area in any sort of parallel timeline as the Oregon Initiative, if they do it at all. If they were going to do anything, and for your statements to mean something more than misdirection and rationalization, the DPA would be announcing their initiative to decriminalize all drugs like Portugal, or even just decriminalizing psilocybin, right now. They would be showing us their initiative language. If they were doing that, then you might be believable. Then the two initiatives side by side would really be something. But they are not doing that, are they? They are “contemplating” and “exploring.” They are so thoughtful.

    Decriminalization must be a part of any initiative, The “medical model” does not and should not be mutually exclusive to the “peoples model” (i.e., decriminalization). The larger social issues require it. You want to keep big pharma out, you need to decriminalize. Note I did not say legalize, with its attendant regulations and such. We do not want a repeat of the cannabis situation.

    The Oregon initiative as written is myopic, elitist and does not address access. I am “contemplating” and “exploring” supporting it. Does that make you feel better?

    Paul Antico
    Decriminalize California

  • David Bronner

    Dear Paul,

    A separate coalition in Oregon has already submitted their “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act” measure http://oregonvotes.org/irr/2020/044text.pdf Marijuana Moment discusses their proposal in depth noting relevant dynamics and views on the matter including yours: https://www.marijuanamoment.net/oregon-voters-could-see-measure-to-decriminalize-all-drugs-on-2020-ballot/

    Decriminalization of all drugs is a much larger social justice issue than mushrooms, that deserves to be proposed and discussed in a clean way with Oregon voters without us peeling off low hanging fruit like Schwarzenegger did with marijuana in 2010 in California, as a tactic to peel off support for full legalization of cannabis. Providing legal access to psilocybin therapy is the main goal of the measure in Oregon; as a secondary issue no one should go to jail for simply possessing mushrooms outside of a therapeutic context, and that would have been included if there was not a serious broad-based decrim measure being introduced at the same time. They deserve an optimal clean landscape for their much more comprehensive proposal to reform drug and addiction policy in Oregon.

    Good luck with your effort in California which we entirely support, even as we prioritize the holy grail of responsible adult psilocybin therapy access outside the medical Pharma model that is on the ballot in Oregon. This will set the model for the rest of the country and world; while separately we hope to also see a broad-based Portugal-style health-based approach to drug addiction (vs mass incarceration) happen in 2020 Oregon as well as Washington.

    Sincerely,
    David Bronner

    • Hello David,

      Have you had any interest in possibly supporting endogenous DMT research? Thank you.

  • Panimus

    Hi David,

    Thanks for the response and willingness to engage in conversation. I appreciate the dialog.

    The Oregon situation has been confusing from the beginning, first with the ShroomPac offshoot that is still ongoing and now this rather unusual initiative change mid-stream, that removes decriminalization, a vital part of any effort of this type. One might justifiably wonder what is going on over there?

    And it gets more strange as we go on, it seems. We have the Oregon Initiative (PSI 2020) saying they removed decriminalization because the DPA was “considering” their own broader decriminalization initiative. You have supported that statement.

    Yet the DPA (Drug Policy Alliance) continues to be very “thoughtful,” saying—from the Marijuana Moment article you linked to in your response to me—that the DPA is “considering getting involved” and “hasn’t yet decided whether to support a full-scale effort to qualify the Oregon proposal for the ballot.” Essentially, if statements made by PSI 2020 are to be believed, PSI 2020 has literally rewritten their initiative based on vague non-statements from the DPA? I find this rather curious.

    And now there is another group, one of whose petitioners is executive director of the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon, that has filed for a decriminalization initiative, on August 15, 2019, about a month ago. Thank you for pointing that out. This initiative is called the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act. Lets call this group the Mental Health & Addiction group.

    A few questions that come to mind:

    Why is the DPA being used as a scapegoat for removing decriminalization from the Oregon Initiative, when the DPA clearly has no stated plans to write, or support, a decriminalization effort, such that the statements of PSI 2020 are even remotely accurate?

    Why has the Mental Health & Addiction group not been mentioned, instead of the DPA, since they actually are doing something regarding decriminalization? They are not doing enough, but they are doing something.

    Who is funding the Mental Health & Addiction group, that says they will be using paid signature gatherers on their application? What are their interests? Why are they so silent, yet the DPA gets mentioned?

    Why is the Mental Health & Addiction group not going for actual decriminalization, instead of “reduced penalties,” which continue to hurt people, particularly through existing inequities, because drugs are still illegal under this initiative? This does not address the social issue reasons for decriminalization. It does not do anything for access. I realize the original Oregon Initiative had similar “reduced penalties,” which was a sore spot already, and this certainly does not help. You would think/hope a separate initiative for decriminalization would actually provide for full decriminalization, rather than reduced penalties. Unless it’s really all about the establishment of treatment centers. Hmmm. So many questions.

    Why is PSI 2020 claiming they know the future, that they are so sure the Mental Health & Addiction group initiative will pass, to justify their own removal of decriminalization? I am being quite generous with that question because PSI 2020 has yet to mention the Mental Health & Addiction group, they have only mentioned the DPA, and we know the DPA isn’t doing anything at all to justify PSI 2020’s statement.

    Why is PSI 2020 so fearful that their initiative needs to have the decriminalization proponent removed in order to pass? I do not think this country (including Oregon) is ready for a total decrim of all drugs, as much as I feel that would be a good thing. But we are very ready for a decrim of psilocybin, yes. It is a mistake to hang your hats on a separate total decrim initiative that is much more unlikely to pass, as an excuse to remove decrim from PSI 2020. This is quite a flaw in reasoning.

    In your own rather handy chart in your original post, the 2 “YES” answers at the bottom in the Decrim column are vital to ensure accessibility and keeping people out of jail and from harassment And that is not to say you can’t have the benefits of some of the other items in your chart regarding the medical model. There is room for both and there is no reason to exclude decriminalization.

    Your chart also notes that the therapy is much cheaper under PSI 2020. It still will be out of reach for those who need it most. Decriminalization does not solve that in the same way, but it does create more opportunities for people they will not have otherwise. And how much less will it actually be? What will it cost?

    Excluding decriminalization is just like big pharma: Welcome to “big psychedelics,” in Oregon–a very restrictive and regulated system of specialized legalization, only with different players. My understanding of the Oregon Initiative PSI 2020 is that not only is it a very closed system, but also under this initiative someone who applies for a license to practice and is then caught using an undefined “excess” amount of cannabis in their own home can have their license revoked. They can also be hit with thousands of dollars of fines in a state where cannabis is recreationally legal. The Oregon Health Authority is empowered to issue fines up to $5,000 for every violation by a license-holder and to investigate those license-holders at any time. Only the most privileged people can afford to take that risk.

    That means the additional penalties instituted by this initiative will make it harder for the people hit hardest by existing inequities in access to mental health treatment to participate.

    David, this is not progress.

    However, I appreciate and applaud your interest in supporting psychedelic science and responsible use. We are in complete agreement on that! The Oregon Initiative PSI 2020, not so much.

    Like your fine products that stand out precisely because they are not “big corporate profits using questionable ingredients over people” and are quality products with healthful, good quality ingredients, why not support the people in true accessibility and truly keeping people out of the penal system with true decriminalization?

    We already know from Dr David Nutt that psilocybin mushrooms are the safest drugs out there, and while the medical modal is fantastic and very healing, it is by far not the only fantastic and very healing game in town. There is room for “both/and.” We have enough “either/or” in this world. The message of psychedelics is “both/and.” Support true decriminalization.

    Appreciatively,
    Paul Antico
    Decriminalize California

  • ECfES

    🌿 & 🍄 Edelic is an Oregon-Based 501(c)(3) Non-Profit that is focused on human rights and psychedelic/entheogenic/ethnobotanical plant and fungi access.

    Edelic has published two newsletters that examine the language of the Oregon Psilocybin Society’s proposed legislation. Edelic’s newsletters cover the differences between the first and second drafts of the PSI2020 (IP-12 vs. IP-34), respectively.

    As a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Public Community Trust, it is essential to educate the broader community that this has caused significant concern for numerous Oregonians focused on human rights, ecological rights, and equitable access. Therefore, it is imperative to inform the community of updates to the policy and how they may have long-term implications for the health and safety of Oregonians and encourage a sharing of dialog.

    The first draft (IP-12) was focused on decriminalization & legalization. The second draft (IP-34) dropped decriminalization totally in favor of legalization, only.

    This, because the second draft essentially criminalizes Nature’s production method of psilocybin and punishes anyone attempting to access naturally-occurring psilocybin mushrooms outside of a single, State-controlled, psilocybin mushroom producing facility.

    Essentially, the first draft, IP-12, did two things. First, decriminalized nature (psilocybin mushrooms) and legalized a medical modality of psilocybin access, whereas IP-34 criminalizes the naturally occurring fungi that has been growing freely, across Oregon, for millennia, while legalizing a medical psilocybin monopoly which threatens, with fines and punishment, anyone operating outside of that framework.

    Psilocybin mushrooms are naturally occurring fungi in Oregon.

    Please read the August 2019 newsletter, which provides a broader overview of the decriminalization movements response to such an attempt at to artificially restrict access to a naturally occurring fungi, where it already grows abundantly.

    If you are focused on policy, the July 2019 newsletter which provides details of the legislation and an ethical analysis of IP-34 can also be found attached.

    There is also a podcast below which two members of the organization introduce themselves, their work, and their community, to the broader psychedelic community.

    As both a team and individuals signatories to the Open Science and Praxis document, thank you for your consideration.

    Edelic 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Public Community Trust

    August 2019 Newsletter: http://edelic.org/4AG4

    July 2019 Newsletter http://edelic.org/4AFY

    Here is a podcast in which two of their members describe a non-profit vision for equity and access. http://edelic.org/4AG2

    “No one should go to jail for simply possessing mushrooms outside such a facility.” -David Bronner

    “Dr. Bronner’s also supports the decriminalization of mushrooms as an important incremental step to liberate this powerful medicine from draconian drug warrior control, and we were one of the top contributors to the Decriminalize Denver campaign.”