SALEM — Oregonians could take psychedelic mushrooms in licensed clinics under an initiative proposed for the November 2020 ballot.

Advocates of the “Oregon Psilocybin Services Act” have submitted the required 1,000 sponsorship signatures for the attorney general to draft ballot language.

Psilocybin is the psychoactive component released when what’s popularly known as magic mushrooms are ingested.

If all goes as planned, petitions could be circulating by early fall.

Thomas Eckert, a Beaverton licensed professional counselor, is the chief petitioner on the Oregon initiative, along with his wife, Sheri, a counselor.

Eckert said the initiative would let therapists legally integrate guided hallucinogenic experiences into the tools for dealing with mental health issues.

“Psilocybin assisted therapy — which includes assessment, preparation, psilocybin administration, and integration afterwards — is shown safe and uniquely effective in addressing a variety of issues, including depression and addictions,” Eckert said.

Recent research at Johns Hopkins University showed psilocybin increased psychological coping and decreased depression in cancer patients. Studies at New York University, Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich, and other major research centers have found psilocybin effective on a number of mental health disorders, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

The scientific research has started to budge the largely negative view of psilocybin dominated by the guidelines of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I drug, the same level assigned to heroin. Both are subject to the highest restriction under federal law.

“Psilocybin … has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” the DEA says in its official “Drugs of Abuse” catalog and guide.

The “effects of abuse” of psilocybin listed by the DEA guide include “hallucinations and an inability to discern fantasy from reality. Panic reactions and psychosis also may occur, particularly if a user ingests a large dose. The physical effects include “nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, and lack of coordination.”

Critics readily point out that the DEA’s Schedule I drug list also includes marijuana. Like marijuana, they say psilocybin is locked in a stereotype from nearly a half-century ago. Like marijuana, they want to move psilocybin use down the path to decriminalization and eventual legalization.

“There’s the overarching theme that nobody should got to jail for using a mushroom,” Kevin Matthews told Westword magazine in July.

Matthews is among the psilocybin activists who have started SPORE — the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education. It grew out of Denver’s psilocybin decriminalization initiative that was narrowly approved by voters in May. Along with an earlier positive vote in Oakland, California, the success in Denver has spurred groups to organize around more ballot measures, including an attempt at decriminalization aiming for a 2020 vote in California.

The Oregon initiative would take another route. It would create a system administered by the Oregon Health Authority where clients would go to a licensed “psilocybin service center,” where they could be monitored before, during and after the psychedelic experience. Discussing the drug’s effects afterwards, called “integration,” is a key to psilocybin therapy.

The Eckerts have advocated for their ideas through the Oregon Psilocybin Society they founded, and now psi-2020.org, a website for passing a psilocybin initiative in Oregon.

2 psilocybin initiatives

Initiative 34, the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, is their second try at a psilocybin ballot measure.

Initiative 12, the Psilocybin Service Initiative of Oregon, was submitted last year.

Both initiatives are currently active, with Initiative 12 already approved to have petitions circulated, according to Steve Trout, director of elections for the Secretary Of State’s Office.

Eckert said the newer initiative is a tighter, better focused revision of the original — “version 2.0.” It’s the one that should go forward, even if it means abandoning the work already completed.

Eckert said Initiative 34 has a better timeline for the state to create the infrastructure needed to make the law work. He said it also includes better barriers to keep large pharmaceutical companies from dominating the distribution system for psilocybin.

“It advances the same therapeutic modality and framework, but it’s significantly dialed in, with protections for the Oregon Health Authority and a longer runway for program development, a strengthened advisory board, and iron-clad protections against big corporate influences,” Eckert said. “It’s a better bill, because it really protects the spirit of the initiative.”

If the new initiative gets a green light from the attorney general, supporters will need to obtain 122,020 valid signatures and submit them to the secretary of state no later than July 2.

That would set up a vote for November 2020, on the same ballot as the presidential election.

Getting on the ballot is just a step. Winning over voters will take a major effort.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, DHM Research conducted a poll last winter in which 600 registered voters in Oregon were shown the original psilocybin initiative without any additional information. Those polled split evenly on how they would vote, with 47% saying yes and 46% saying no. Another 7% were unsure.

Eckert says voters are going to need a lot more information than just the ballot title to make up their minds.

“Our polling has shown that, when Oregonians are given a little information about the science of psilocybin, 64% support the idea of legalizing access to these kind of services,” he said.

Eckert said proponents expect to use both paid and volunteer signature gatherers to get well past the signature goal and put the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act in front of voters next year.

“We have exceptional support, both strategically and financially, which will allow us to hire a firm to knock out the signatures, along with help from our awesome volunteers,” Eckert said.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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