Reactions to the prospect of psilocybin – the hallucinogenic compound derived from “magic mushrooms” – becoming legal for manufacturing and clinical use in Josephine County have largely been negative at JoCo Board of Commissioners meetings.
However, several psilocybin supporters, including a wounded veteran who credits psilocybin with turning his life around, showed up to the Anne G. Basker Auditorium Aug. 11 to share why they think the drug can help residents of Josephine County.
The discussion was prompted by second public hearings for a pair of ordinances – to prohibit psilocybin production and service centers, respectively. First readings of these ordinances were held July 27.
County attorney Allison Smith returned to give a report and updates on the ordinances.
“Since the first reading, a couple of changes have been made to this ordinance,” Smith said. “This prohibition will apply within the unincorporated areas of Josephine County and within the city of Cave Junction pursuant to the city’s consent to be included in this ordinance. This ordinance will not apply within the incorporated area of Grants Pass.
“Another change I would like to note that has been made to this ordinance since the first reading is a change to the definition of psilocybin. That definition now reads: ‘Psilocybin means psilocybin or psilocin, the naturally-occurring psychedelic compound derived from certain species of fungi, commonly referred to as magic mushrooms.’”
Before the podium was opened up for public comments, Board Chair Herman Baertschiger reiterated, “The audience needs to be aware that the commissioners are not making a decision about whether this is going to be legal or illegal; they are taking the question to the voters, and the voters will be making the decision.”
The first member of the audience to speak was Scott Hicks, who testified to being a disabled military veteran and longtime county resident, who was inflicted with serious injuries including a broken back and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I wanted to kill myself for years,” Hicks confessed. “I wanted to take my own life… In a year and a half – from January of 2019 to Sept. 1, 2020 – I went from 400 pounds to 200 pounds. I changed my entire existence, and I’ve healed parts of my body that other people said, ‘How did you do that?’ My doctors are mystified.”
Hicks went on to say, “This medicine that we are talking about changes lives… I don’t have a dog in this fight, other than I want other people to heal. I want access in my own county and I want to be able to invite other people to come here.”
Several members of the audience violated the board’s meeting rules by applauding Hicks when his accord concluded.
Other Psilocybin Services Act proponents proceeded to deliver three-minute arguments in favor of psilocybin accessibility, directing the commissioners’ attention to research regarding the benefits offered to those who suffer mental illness.
Some drew contrast between psilocybin and marijuana, noting that psilocybin can be grown on “baker’s racks” and other confined spaces, so its manufacture would not have the ecological implications of marijuana.
One individual praised the board for having two separate ballot measures, one on cultivation of psilocybin and one on service centers, so that the compound may be administered in JoCo even if most voters decide they are not comfortable with the substance’s manufacture here.
Citizens who testified to having done research on psilocybin came away with the notion that it is safe to be taken in the context and dosage the Psilocybin Services Act allows it to be administered in.
Perennial county commissioner candidate Mark Seligman painted the commissioners as hypocrites for saying the government should not obstruct a patient’s right to heed the advice of their doctors as it pertains to COVID-19 vaccination, but being personally opposed to the ability of medical professionals to prescribe psilocybin for clinical use.
“I’m rather struck by the therapeutic value of psilocybin for some people,” said Seligman. “If that works for them, so be it. Don’t get between their doctors and themselves.”
Michael Shannon of Merlin opined that magic mushrooms have been “demonized” by the “propaganda of the failed war on drugs.”
He added that veterans with PTSD and chronic pain would be most affected if psilocybin is outlawed within the unincorporated areas of Josephine County.
“These people have fought for us, and when they return home they often have physical, mental and emotional wounds,” Shannon said. “They have given everything for us, and it is our duty to give every opportunity to them to heal their wounds.”
During responses to public testimony, Commissioner Dan DeYoung thanked the psilocybin supporters for coming in and letting their views be known. He called them good “advocates” for the substance, but said he still personally has doubts about legalization because the Oregon Health Authority has not released rules and regulations yet.
DeYoung thanked Hicks for his military service, adding, “I think I know a little bit about being a veteran.”
“This is not a decision we are going to make,” DeYoung repeated. “This is a decision we want you to make.”
He concluded, “I want more from the state. I want a lot more information before we as the board of county commissioners feel we have the authority to say yes, it’s legal.”
Commissioner Darin Fowler called the stories shared by citizens “compelling”, and added, “We make better decisions when we get input from the public.”
Fowler joined DeYoung in criticizing the state of Oregon for not putting more details out about how psilocybin production and service centers will be regulated before asking municipalities to vote on it.
“Sometimes concepts get on the ballot that have no underlying support like this one,” said Fowler. “They will make no decisions until December about what the criteria around this is going to look like… All that is still a mystery.
“So I am willing to wait until all that is settled and let somebody else be the first one out of the gate because when Josephine County is the first testing ground for things, we don’t end up doing so well.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the ban on psilocybin. It will go into effect if the majority of Josephine County voters approve it in November.