Keeping ahead of the corporate interests: attorney Courtney Barnes discusses Decriminalize Nature Oakland’s proposed new ordinance

A few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking with Courtney Barnes, Esq., an associate at the law firm Vicente Sederberg, about the draft ordinance she prepared on behalf of Decriminalize Nature Oakland.

Everything happening now is an open-source uncontrolled policy experiment: federal intransigence continues to cause the drug control structure to crack as citizens try to empower themselves through their state and local governments to create rational drug control policy. It’s entropy in action. Ironically, it may be that the inability of the pharmaceutical sector to control the psychedelic market under federal authority is what has kept the field clear for equity-oriented activists to operate and seize territory.

The Oakland Community Health Initiative (the OCHI) is a very interesting and important example of the process. The OCHI is an attempt to create a regulated market [my characterization, not Decriminalize Nature’s] that will prioritize providing relief to the people of Oakland who are suffering trauma. By explicitly formulating the supply-side of the market it looks much more like the state-level initiatives in California and Oregon, the latter of which is heading to the polls in November, than it does the Denver initiative that passed last May or even the Decriminalize Nature Oakland ordinance adopted last June and which is now pending in some form in municipalities around the US. I say so even though the OCHI is distinctively marked by its repeated explicit emphasize on excluding for-profit actors.

The OCHI in broad terms provides for the registration of “Facilitators” (who I characterize as equivalent to “treatment providers”) and “Participants” (who I characterize as equivalent to “patients”) who can engage in “Entheogenic Plant Practices,” a very broad spectrum of activities – “propagation, planting, cultivation, harvesting, drying, processing, possession, furnishing, use, and administration of Entheogenic Plants.” It’s the first attempt of which I’m aware to create a complete regulatory framework governing psychedelic substances, that is to say regulations governing the supply side of the market at the local level. 

The OCHI, as a prime example of the uncontrolled thought experiment I described above, leaves open for further development some key elements of the system, most plainly the “Safe Practice Guidelines and Principles for Facilitators and Participants,” a document that, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist yet but will provide the particulars for the whole system. That document will be critical as it will, presumably, demarcate the line between criminalized and decriminalized activities. I venture to say that if the ordinance passes the process of drafting the SPGP will be the epicenter of psychedelic legalization activism. Imagine sitting in on the drafting of the Constitution.

The SPGP is just one of several elements of the proposed regulatory structure that are left open in a manner analogous to the way that legislators will pass a statute that leaves extensive discretion to a regulatory agency to come up regulations giving effect to the law. However, it’s not clear on the face of the ordinance who it is who will flesh out the OCHI. I assume that, in this citizen-driven revolution, the activists will continue to lead the process – which means that the process depends on the ability of the movement constituents to find a way to maintain consensus and collaborate.

The overarching context of the OCHI comes through clearly: we’re in an ‘arms race’ between the rapidly-expanding psychedelic pharmaceutical start-up sector that seeks a monopoly through federal regulatory approval, on the one part, and the citizenry who seek immediate equitable access for all in a manner analogous to the way the medical cannabis movement moved forward. (One critical distinction between the cannabis space and the psychedelic space remains the impossibility of any corporate interests moving towards FDA approval of cannabis due a result of DEA obstruction.) The OCHI is a decisive move forward to occupy as much as ground as possible during the time lag in which the psychedelic startup sector continues to raise funds in pursuit of FDA approval.

 

 

 

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