PORTLAND, Ore. — As Oregon drafts the rules for its new psilocybin program, the first of its kind in the U.S., residents are voicing concern about the confusing patchwork of local ordinances that may emerge.
In 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize the therapeutic, supervised use of psilocybin after 56% of voters approved Ballot Measure 109. Psilocybin is the active hallucinogenic ingredient in what are commonly referred to as magic mushrooms.
But the measure allows counties to opt out of the program if their constituents vote to do so, and several are hoping to do just that, sparking confusion among residents hoping to get involved in the nascent sector.
Questions about this issue were raised several times during the first public listening session hosted Wednesday by the Oregon Health Authority and its new Psilocybin Services section.
Facilitators are paying thousands of dollars for training, one participant said, asking what could be done if counties opt out.
Several county commissioners, mostly in rural areas, have recently decided to put psilocybin center bans on the ballot in November. But even Clackamas County, which includes Portland's southern suburbs as well as rural mountain areas, has drafted an ordinance asking voters to prohibit such centers.
A Clackamas County resident during the listening session wondered if there would be any recourse if after becoming licensed for psilocybin events and activities, the county enacts a voter-approved ban.
Brandon Davis, another participant, echoed the concern. “I might have to move and relocate entirely just to get into this business market,” he said.
The trend is similar to one in 2016 when the state gave local governments the ability to opt-out of legal cannabis sales, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Many Eastern Oregon cities and counties banned cannabis sales initially, but some communities saw a shift in opinion after cannabis became a tax boon for municipalities once it was legalized.
Wednesday’s public listening session allowed residents to comment and ask questions. Oregon Psilocybin Services said it will post online responses to the questions in the coming weeks.
Under the measure, only licensed facilitators can possess and administer psilocybin services. Clients, who must be 21 or older, must consume the substance at an approved site under a facilitator’s supervision.
The measure directs OHA to license and regulate the manufacturing, sale and provision of psilocybin services. It also created OPS, a new section housed in OHA, to oversee the creation and implementation of a new regulatory framework.
OPS, still in its two-year development period, is aiming by year’s end to establish the rules on psilocybin facilitator licensure and training, case management, compliance and product tracking, among others.
The Food and Drug Administration has named psilocybin a “breakthrough” therapy for severe depression. The designation can expedite the development of drugs that intend to treat serious conditions and that could substantially improve upon available therapy based on preliminary clinical evidence. Outside of certain scientific research contexts, however, the substance remains illegal under federal law.
Measure 109 was one of two drug-related ballot initiatives approved by Oregon voters in November 2020. Measure 110 decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and LSD, marking another national first.
Oregon has pioneered the decriminalization of controlled substances in the U.S. It was the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in 1973.
Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.