Oregon voters, the world is depending on you

There are Oregon voters who oppose Measure 109 on the grounds that it is not true progressive psychedelic policy reform. It does not provide for decriminalization of any activity (cultivation, possession, or use of psilocybin) except what is permitted to manufacturers, treatment centers, and treatment providers who are licensed by the state and to patients who are approved by the treatment centers.   

I understand and empathize with the disappointment that general psilocybin decriminalization is not in the version of the initiative that is on the ballot.  I understand that the general drug decriminalization initiative, Measure 110, that is also on the ballot does not treat psilocybin in a way that compensates for the omission of general adult psilocybin use/cultivation from Measure 109.

However.
Let’s look at the situation a different way.

The failure or success of Measure 109 will have effects beyond Oregon

If Measure 109 fails, supporters of psychedelic law reform who rejected the measure because it is not perfect will celebrate their victory with a plastic trophy full of ash. There is no guarantee that there will be another opportunity to pass a state psychedelic law reform bill, whether decriminalizing a psychedelic or legalizing its medicinal use, and failure will not be interpreted to mean what those opponents think it does. Failure of Measure 109 will be interpreted in the media as evidence that there is no popular support for state-level psychedelic law reform, not that Measure 109 didn’t go far enough.

If Measure 109 passes, the victory will be immense, even—dare I say—civilizational: passage of the measure will demonstrate that there is support for psychedelic reform sufficient to change state law. Remember the big win in Denver that showed everyone that decriminalization is possible? I-301 passed by less than a percentage point, literally less than 3,000 votes out of just under 178,000 votes cast, but the simple fact of its passage was construed to mean that psychedelic decriminalization is politically viable. Although, Oregon voters, it will not be fatal to the reform movement in this critical, humanity-at-the-precipice moment if Measure 109 fails, it won’t help.

Measure 109 provides a strong base for a good therapeutic access system

However, even on its own terms, Measure 109 is remarkable in how much room it gives the psychedelic movement to shape policy. The legislation is extremely flexible and, if advocates of psychedelic legalization organize effectively, they should be able to protect against misinformed bureaucrats or hostile outside forces from corrupting the system into an inequitable for-profit, commodified pharmaceutical model. The essential principle is that no one understands psychedelics as well as the people who actually use them or work with them as caregivers, and Measure 109 holds open a space for the psychedelic movement to step forward and influence implementation of a therapeutic access system if people choose to participate in the political process.

I make my comments in this post as someone who denounced New York’s medical cannabis legislation, the Compassionate Care Act, when I saw the form into which had been perverted in June-July of 2014. I said that that bill had become so bad that legalization advocates should oppose it and instead push for passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, an adult-use tax-and-regulate bill that had been introduced in the New York State legislature for the first time in December 2013.

I understand that passing a bad law can be worse than passing no law—passing a bad law creates a bad foundation for everything that comes afterwards. That is what happened in New York: the CCA in the form demanded by the Governor is a grotesquely over-restrictive system—a perversion of the fundamental premises of compassionate therapeutic access—which the legalization movement has been trying to fix from the minute it was signed into law.

That is not how I read the situation in Oregon.

Measure 109 creates a flexible regulatory system that the psychedelic movement can influence for the good if it chooses to be politically active

Measure 109 gives immense discretion to the Oregon Health Authority to establish the elements of legal access to psilocybin. Unlike a statute that locks in multiple levels of requirements that only well-financed corporate interests can meet and excludes others as cultivators/manufacturers of a psychedelic substance, distributors, or caregivers, or that unnecessarily reduces who can access the substance, Measure 109 leaves the requirements open for determination in the rulemaking period that will come after passage of the measure. The premise of the measure is that an “Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board” will study psilocybin and advise the OHA as to what regulations are necessary for a well-functioning system. If the movement organizes well, then it should be able to ensure that the members of the advisory board understand psilocybin–and that the OHA properly defers to advice from people with special expertise on psilocybin.

Notwithstanding the absence of general decriminalization provisions, elements of Measure 109 appear to be intended to create a system that is oriented towards the values of the movement and away from a overly-restrictive medical model with high barriers to entry.

There are very few explicit requirements for licensure as a manufacturer, service center operator, or facilitator other than a minimum age of 21, Oregon residency, and meeting whatever requirements are formulated by the OHA.

The measure does not require anyone to possess an advanced educational degree or be a licensed medical professional.

It prevents the OHA from requiring that all available psilocybin be synthetic.

Even though it does not grant local governments authority to issue licenses or impose their own taxes on licensees, it grants broad authority to create reasonable conditions and limitations on the operations of licensees. It grants the voters in cities and counties to opt out of or opt into the system, i.e., to determine that manufacturers and/or service centers will or will not be permitted to operate. If the psychedelic movement in a particular city is able to organize effectively then it stands a chance of creating local laws that are appropriate for an equitable psilocybin therapy system.

One of the duties of the Psilocybin Advisory Board is to provide findings and recommendations “for a long-term strategic plan for ensuring that psilocybin services will become and remain a safe, accessible and affordable therapeutic option for all persons 21 years of age and older in this state for whom psilocybin may be appropriate.” The presence of that language will not ensure equitable access, but it provides a strong basis on which to demand it and challenge regulations that run contrary to the purposes of the statute.

In New York in 2014, when I saw the medical cannabis legislation deteriorate into what I knew would be a debacle—and said so publicly, there was already better alternative legislation.  There’s no current alternative to Measure 109. To those who prefer that Measure 109 fail so that they can introduce a better bill at a later date: you might not get that opportunity.

There are aspects of the measure that I might have done differently, but on balance Measure 109 is an immense step forward. If there are problems with the measure, they can be fixed. If the measure passes it will create powerful momentum and support to advocates in every state in the Union—and jurisdictions around the world—to organize for psychedelic law reform.

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