According to Oregon.gov, Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin for medical uses in the state of Oregon, was rejected by Josephine County voters in the November 2020 election 26,225 to 22,615, despite passing statewide.
This fall, psilocybin may get a rematch in Josephine County, as the Oregon Health Authority is allowing individual counties to opt out of permitting the manufacture and administration of the psychedelic substance when OHA begins implementing the Psilocybin Services Act in January 2023.
The Board of Josephine County Commissioners held public hearings during its July 27 weekly business session in consideration of referring a pair of ballot measures in November asking voters whether psilocybin should be allowed to be manufactured and/or prescribed in Josephine County.
JoCo assistant legal counsel Allison Smith was invited to the podium to explain the situation.
“Psilocybin is the hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms,” Smith explained. “Under Measure 109, the state created a program by which psilocybin could be manufactured statewide… Currently OHA is still in the rulemaking process and those rules are expected to be available by Dec. 31 of this year.
“Upon approval by the voters, psilocybin product manufacturing will be prohibited in Josephine County. This ordinance will apply in the unincorporated areas of Josephine County. It will also apply within the city of Cave Junction, pursuant to the city of Cave Junction’s consent to be included in this ordinance.”
After Smith’s accord, the commissioners took the opportunity to ask questions of the assistant legal counsel, and their main inquiry was whether the state could eventually render any ordinances limiting psilocybin null and void, especially if the FDA approves its use in the future.
Commissioner Dan DeYoung also asked if a future ballot measure could rescind a psilocybin ban if medical research shows it is more effective at treating mental illness than it is currently known to be.
“What’s the opportunity down the road if we do find out that this is the answer to an awful lot of our mental health problems and PTSD problems and so on and so forth?” asked DeYoung. “How do we undo (a psilocybin ban)?”
Smith responded that the board could entertain an ordinance to overturn any countywide psilocybin regulations. Additionally “time, place and manner restrictions” could be introduced to set parameters for psilocybin manufacturing and administration in the future as well.
DeYoung added that citizens could get a ballot measure to overturn the psilocybin prohibition using the petition process.
“The citizens could say, ‘Boy, we want this stuff. You don’t want it but we do,'” remarked DeYoung.
“It is a little premature; Oregon seems to want to be on the front edge of experimental drug use or legalizing drugs,” Commissioner Darin Fowler said on psilocybin legalization. “It’s been that way since the 70s, when they decriminalized marijuana.
“For whatever reason, Oregon thinks this is the direction we should go.”
Fowler added, “If someone says that mushrooms are legal, they’re gonna start growing more somewhere. And Josephine County is famous for that – trying to meet an illegal market. And I don’t want to feed that at all in our county.”
Public comments on psilocybin were largely negative, with several speakers comparing the potential consequences of psilocybin legalization to that of the cannabis industry and the skyrocketing crime rate it invited.
It is important to note that unlike cannabis, psilocybin will still have strict rules governing its use. Only medical professionals will be allowed to administer the substance to screened individuals suffering from mental illness in controlled settings, and they will not be allowed to leave until intoxication subsides.
Still, multiple citizens recounted personal stories in which substance abuse touched their lives, with one remarking, “We don’t need more drug people walking around this town… You don’t want this stuff spread around legally. All it does is make you crazy.”
“Our mental health situation in this country is not going to be solved by another drug,” said another meeting participant.
“Psilocybin is at the very bottom of my list of something I think this society and this county needs to get involved with.” This sentiment was shared by many attendees.
Sheriff Dave Daniel counted himself among psilocybin’s opponents when he spoke at the meeting, saying, “I wanted to weigh in on this and make it very, very clear to the public that I am absolutely, 100% against the manufacture and treatment within Josephine County of this experimental drug.”
Daniel added that “we’ve been down this road before” with cannabis and “I don’t want to be a guinea pig again.”
The sheriff praised the commissioners for taking steps to put the measure on the ballot.
A steady stream of anti-drug rhetoric was issued by citizens after the sheriff spoke, with some yearning for a return to “family values” and others opining that Josephine County would turn into a scene out of The Walking Dead if psilocybin becomes legal, filled with “lost souls” wandering around like “zombies.”
One citizen even proposed that the commissioners introduce a resolution to make JoCo a “dry county” free of “all drugs.”
Fowler used his time during responses to public comments to personally advocate for voters to say no to psilocybin legalization.
“I really think, if we haven’t learned our lesson yet, what’s it gonna take?” asked Fowler. “We gotta stand up and fight when we can… so I will.”
Before the vote to advance the psilocybin ban proposal to a second hearing, DeYoung advised his colleagues to refer to the substance as “magic mushrooms” or “hallucinogens” on the ballot so all voters understand what it is. He said he had only heard the word “psilocybin” for the first time a matter of weeks ago, and that on “the street,” cannabis is referred to as “dope” rather than its scientific name, so to promote understanding among the electorate, psilocybin should be referred to in simplistic terms as well.
Fowler said such changes could be considered during a future hearing.
All three commissioners voted to advance the ordinance to a second reading Aug. 10, where they will have the option to adopt it.