For the reader new to this movement, before reading further, please see my take on how Decriminalize Nature (DN) complements the therapeutic approach in the psychedelic movement, including my complimentary take on where their leadership is personally coming from.
Dr. Bronner’s is fully committed to the Decriminalize Nature (DN) movement, but have recently lost faith in its national leadership; however we still fully support regional DN campaigns such as DC’s effort to decriminalize plant medicines. Last week things came to a head between me and Decriminalize Nature’s national leadership, Carlos Plazola and Larry Norris, where I informed them and the DN board that Dr. Bronner’s would no longer financially support them directly, or their lobbying effort on behalf of their proposed Oakland Community Health Initiative. My note to them is below (and the only emails I will share will be relevant ones I’ve sent to them):
From: David Bronner
Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2020 8:30 AM
To: DN National Board
Subject: RE: Making peace takes all parties
Hi Carlos, Larry and DN team,
There’s still intense emotion but definitely better for having swapped the blog. There will be a formal clarification / communication from IPCI that I hope and believe will be much better than otherwise, that can lead to a ceasefire.
However there’s a lot of intense reactions and things coming to light in other quarters now, that shows a pattern and history of alienating and sidelining core supporters of the DNO effort. Alongside the latest round with IPCI, we believe it is best to separate and disengage formal support of DNO and take time to process. We won’t route funds through DN but can pay Milo and Courtney invoices direct for the rest of the year as part of a high vibration severance, and give you time to raise funds for next year.
I’ve got a lot going on today ahead of travel and will get invoices processed internally Monday eve if not later today.
The precipitating context was that DN National leadership was upset over DN Santa Cruz’s apology to the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI), and had drafted and publicly posted an inflammatory blog sharing a significant number of private emails, accusing IPCI of unethical behavior. Heeding my counsel, they had redrafted a much better but still not great version they swapped in a few days later; but the reaction from various quarters brought to light that this was not a singular problem, but represented a pattern of aggressive and disrespectful behavior towards various core allies and supporters of the DNO effort. On reflection, I felt I had to disengage. I did not intend to publicly shame them nor withdraw support for the DN movement and ethos at large, which I very much believe in.
We had coordinated closely with Melissa Lavasani in launching the DC Decrim Nature effort, with Kevin Matthews involvement as well, and I was looking forward to further coordination as the movement caught fire. Dr. Bronner’s had been a key financial supporter of the Denver Decrim effort, and really appreciated how Decrim Nature Oakland took things to the next level soon after. I also appreciated that they were able to accomplish what they did legislatively vs. with a ballot measure process, which if it’s feasible is better for a number of reasons, including that it’s often cheaper. However Oakland is a very progressive, relatively small city, central to the historical cannabis movement, and the other cities that DN has advanced legislatively in—Santa Cruz and Ann Arbor—are very lefty small college towns. In DC, after a good faith legislative effort, it was clear we were not going to advance the cause without going to the ballot like in Denver. The ballot measure process is direct democracy for the people to leverage when legislative bodies are gridlocked or otherwise fail to prioritize a progressive measure. My hope has been that after we bust through in DC in November, that will generate the momentum to make it easier to pass DN measures legislatively. But as I told Carlos, for bigger cities there may still need to be a couple more ballot measure victories to “prime the pump” enough that legislative victories can really start to flow in bigger and less progressive cities.
Recently I also was looking forward to helping support the Oakland Community Health Initiative and the corresponding state-level effort that DN leadership had mapped out. However, when things erupted again with IPCI, with corresponding disclosures about other aggressive conflicts that Carlos engaged with various other parties, with repeated efforts to mediate that ultimately failed, we decided to pull back on the Oakland/national DN front but otherwise continue to support regional DN efforts. Out of confidence for those parties I did not disclose them to the DN board, but referenced them in a general way by way of explanation why we were withdrawing our support.
In the same email thread, Shane Micheal, founder of the Church of the People for Creator and Mother Earth and a new DN board member, expressed dismay at what he saw as me abandoning the DN movement entirely, as well as sharing a dismissive interaction he had previously with Dr. Bronner’s Instagram page. I responded to him privately by email, on the same thread, reaffirming my support for the movement at large just not Carlos and Larry, and apologized for the Instagram. We had a good exchange and look forward to connecting since we’re neighbors in San Diego county. I did not text him out of the blue, which is what Carlos recently implied when he posted my note to Shane without the context that I had just emailed the entire DN board prior to the same effect, including Shane. In no way am I trying to get Shane to not be on the DN board, or by supporting regional DN efforts expect that they would cut ties with the national leadership.
Regarding IPCI’s issue with DN, I had previously engaged to try and mediate the situation in March and April at the request of both parties. The bottom line from my perspective at that juncture, was that Carlos and DN had pledged to IPCI and the NAC in late summer / early fall last year that they would make sure “peyote” was removed from future DN initiatives. IPCI and NAC in the first place were understandably upset with DN over what they saw as disrespectful decriminalization of peyote medicine in Oakland without any consultation with them. IPCI’s concern is that as the DN movement takes off in the U.S. and around the world, demand for plant medicines will spike, and in the case of peyote, further the current crisis where the wild peyote gardens in south Texas and north / central Mexico are in a state of collapse. Thus the request that peyote be removed from future measures, even though they are still concerned what impact decriminalizing “mescaline containing cacti” will have (San Pedro being a good non-problematic source). But then “peyote” appeared over the winter in the Santa Cruz DN resolution, which along with pictures of peyote on the DN website, represented bad faith or at best lack of effort to NAC and IPCI.
I counseled IPCI that DN leadership were in fact making a real effort in this regard, and back in March, IPCI and NAC offered a draft statement for DN to review and edit after the Santa Cruz resolution, which was the perfect opportunity for the DN board in a timely fashion to review, edit and engage in a process that would have de-escalated and put this all to rest.
Sharing some of my counsel to Carlos and Larry and the DN board in emails dated March 22nd:
“Unfortunately DN got off on the wrong foot with NAC /IPCI not reaching out to dialog about decriminalizing peyote in the first place, and its impact on the peyote gardens in Texas which are in a state of collapse. NAC and IPCI should be at the table on any US policy related to peyote but they weren’t consulted or invited. First nation elders are dropping in hard which isn’t fun to experience and negotiate, but my feeling is this can be resolved with calm respectful dialog, although hasn’t yet since the last time you guys attempted six months ago. There’s a lot of paranoia, mistrust and miscommunication to work through, and my counsel is to keep calm and keep perspective.
Although my recent exchange with Carlos went sideways, my primary goal was to counsel to not be reactive about NAC / IPCI members reaching out direct to DN campaigns, and to vibrationally de-escalate and focus on the substance. Calling the NAC “dishonorable” and getting bent out of shape is a defensive distraction and unhelpful: from the NAC point of view, DN was dishonorable and did not keep their word that “peyote” would not be used in further legislation as it was in the recent Santa Cruz resolution. I’ve explained that Larry has indeed been getting after local DN efforts on this front, but actions speak louder than words in cases like this when there is so much distrust. It’s understandable they want to be in direct dialog with the campaigns given their prior effort to stop use of the “peyote” term failed. But I was gratified to see that they do acknowledge that DN has been making efforts in this regard in their recent letter to the DN board sent c/o to Carlos and Larry, showing some progress already in the dialog. My feeling is that they most want to be respected, felt and heard, and are proposing a way for DN to do so with the draft statement.
I am also aware DN has the perception of a double standard, that NAC / IPCI are not going after the DATRA campaign in Oregon in the same way they are concerned about DN, with regards to decriminalizing peyote. As I’ve advised they are very different efforts with DATRA not at all focusing on or promoting peyote or any other plant medicine use, versus being a broad based effort to end mass incarceration of people of color by decriminalizing all drugs in relatively low amounts including especially hard drugs of abuse. There’s nothing about peyote on their website and NAC doesn’t perceive there is a risk of escalating demand for peyote in the same way that DN efforts will.
…..[and then further counsel after a not great response complaining about IPCI]
“I’ve witnessed but still don’t truly fathom the sacred depth of their relationship to the peyote medicine, how central and crucial it is in the core of their being, and how important it is to them to protect from any threat. Unfortunately for all of DN’s beauty, the NAC saw, not entirely inaccurately, in the DN effort a real threat to the most important thing in their world.
I don’t know all the ins and outs of who communicated in whatever uncool way, but encourage not making that an issue versus resolving the underlying concerns they have. They have a perspective on things to feel into even more as you get ready to dialog and resolve things. I see in this crisis a real opportunity to non-reactively ju jitzu what you see as punches and turn into a dance. I really think you and the board can resolve this once and for all, hearing and feeling them deep in your dialog, and take their draft statement and put in your own language but reflecting the gist of what they’re looking for.”
Unfortunately instead, DN National leadership got angry and shut off further communication with IPCI and then posted the misleadingly titled “Peyotl” unity statement a month later that further inflamed the situation with IPCI. That statement seemed to suggest that IPCI didn’t know how to spell their own medicine, weren’t aware of the pan-tribal history of peyote, and that the Wixarika tribe in Mexico did not support IPCI. In fact the Wixarika are coordinating closely with IPCI which they have formally clarified, and IPCI engaged directly with DN Santa Cruz to sort things, leading to an apology. I had counseled Carlos to just flow with this and show solidarity in a couple of months when a large scale “Indigenous Medicine Fund” launches to support bio-cultural conservation work and sustainable cultivation for plant medicines and indigenous traditions around the world. Instead Carlos and Larry got mad again, and posted the recent inflammatory blog that I spent considerable effort and time counseling them to redraft, which they did a few days later but still wasn’t awesome and still inappropriately shared a lot of private emails, and led to the uproar and reaction that led me to decide to separate from DN Oakland and the national leadership.
I’ve also previously pointed out to Carlos his tendency to deflect and make a person’s privilege or trauma, depending on who he’s disagreeing with (e.g. me or IPCI), the primary issue rather than the actual substance of the disagreement. For sure I constantly need to check myself, as straight white male privilege and racial/sexist/LBGTQ trauma are woven tightly into my/our individual and collective experience, and addressing and healing systemic racism is crucial for our white supremacist society to move into the beautiful world most of us want to live in. I’ve appreciated Carlos, along with Dr. Monnica Williams and Dr. Mellody Hayes, critique of the psychedelic movement at large, that we need to provide access to medicine and therapy in a culturally appropriate and economically accessible way. As a board member of MAPS, I’ve been gratified to see the steps that MAPS is taking to make sure therapists of color are trained as a priority, as well as developing the health equity initiative that will soon be unveiled, discussed in yesterday’s excellent Washington Post Magazine article. MAPS is taking steps to introduce a group therapy model as well, thanks to the eloquent advocacy of Dr. Hayes and others. But we have further to go, and look forward to continue to work with our BIPOC allies getting all the way there.
Dr. Bronner’s is also a key supporter of the Drug Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Act in Oregon, the broad based “treatment not jail” campaign that will end the drug war’s racist and disproportionate criminalization of people of color there and blaze the path for the rest of the country to follow; as well as Oregon’s Psilocybin Therapy Initiative (PSI) that will provide well-structured access, including group facilitation, to psilocybin therapy for all adults who can safely benefit, not simply those with a narrow qualifying diagnosis of Treatment Resistant Depression.
But crucially, as I note in my MAPS article linked above, the DN movement is fundamentally about our right to access plant medicines and ceremonial healing with their long history of indigenous use, outside of and alongside the highly regulated medical pharma or even PSI’s therapeutic model. This right is bigger than any individual or person, and while I felt the need to disengage from Carlos and Larry, I’ve learned a whole lot from them and look forward to helping rock and manifest the vision that I share with them along with many others.
Here’s the front side of a mailer that’s about to hit 67,000 primarily Black voting households in DC that the DC campaign is bringing together, with both white and Black leaders working with Black allies, where we already have moved the support for the measure from 51% to 60%. Can’t wait to see the DN dream come alive in the nation’s capital, and the national and international impact that will have. We will continue to help nurture this movement in cities across the country, including in Oregon next year with our many allies there.