Why Ann Arbor officials decided to decriminalize mushrooms and psychedelic plants
ANN ARBOR, MI – When a grassroots activist group in Ann Arbor began lobbying city council to decriminalize magic mushrooms and other psychedelic plants and fungi, most council members were unwilling to defend the cause.
“I’ll be honest, I tried to avoid this problem when it first appeared,” said Board member Zachary Ackerman.
But he and other board members have been convinced by arguments and research on the healing benefits of psychedelics, including for the treatment of mental health.
Ackerman said he began delving into the scientific literature after meeting Chuck Ream, a longtime marijuana activist and supporter of the Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor campaign, known as DNA2.
“After much research, aided by a personal friend who is a psychology researcher, I formed an opinion which I hope is based on logic,” Ackerman said on joining his colleagues on Monday evening, September 21, by voting unanimously in favor. of decriminalization of entheogenic plants and fungi in Ann Arbor.
This includes ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and other herbal compounds with hallucinogenic properties deemed illegal under federal and state law, but no synthetic compounds like LSD.
The council resolution says it is the city’s lowest priority for law enforcement to investigate and arrest anyone for entheogenic plants and fungi, and it says non-addictive psychedelics can help. to solve addiction problems, trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief and other conditions.
Ann Arbor joins a handful of other US cities that have taken similar action.
Denver became the first US city to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms last year, followed by Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, which decriminalized all entheogenic plants.
Ackerman said he recognizes that this may seem like a silly topic to some, given that psychedelics have “a very special and wacky place in our national culture,” and given the legacy of misguided initiatives such as MK-Ultra, in which the CIA secretly experimented with people with psychedelics decades ago.
This has cast “a very long shadow,” but modern research shows potentially serious benefits, Ackerman said.
“To give some perspective, Johns Hopkins, a leading medical research university, has just launched a $ 17 million center dedicated exclusively to researching the medical benefits of these substances, as Johns Hopkins and his donors see the ‘huge potential for these future drugs,’ he said. .
In particular, the medical research around psilocybin is undeniably inspiring and promising, Ackerman said.
As someone recovering long-term from his alcohol addiction, he said the results of studies of cocaine addicts and veterans with PTSD look particularly promising.
“I also think that in 2020 we need to look for ways to reduce the number of police interactions that occur in our community, and decriminalizing what are generally safe substances is a place to start,” Ackerman said. .
Police chief Michael Cox said arrests of people for such substances had not often occurred in Ann Arbor in recent years, so the council’s resolution likely reflects the reality of how the city police are already doing their job.
“Honestly, we’ve had about six arrests for this since 2017 and it’s zero for this year,” he said.
Council member Jane Lumm, I-2nd Ward, said she could not support the resolution as originally proposed, but was ready to accept it after some tweaking.
These included adding a statement that the city does not allow any crime and removing a clause saying that no city funds or resources could be used to investigate, detain, arrest or prosecute anyone. ‘one for entheogenic plants.
Any significant violation of state or federal law or any use of entheogenic plants that poses a threat to public health, safety and well-being could still result in the involvement of city law enforcement, the resolution says. revised.
Council members stressed that their main interest was the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics and that they were not trying to promote a tourism culture around recreational use.
Going forward, city officials should be wary of any moves to legalize recreational substances, they said.
“Clinical use is kind of what we’re looking for,” said Board Member Jeff Hayner, who presented the resolution with Anne Bannister, a colleague from 1st Ward.
Hayner said the intention was to allow personal use, give people doing cutting-edge mental health research more tools and remove stigma.
“What this resolution does is it orders our police department not to focus on enforcing these laws, just as we did in the 1970s with regard to law enforcement. marijuana, ”said Board Member Jack Eaton, D-4th Ward.
“The literature clearly indicates that there are clinical and religious uses that are beneficial and that it is inappropriate to criminalize this type of behavior,” Eaton said.
By the way, Eaton said, in the late 1940s and early 1950s his father worked at Ypsilanti State Hospital, which was experimenting with hallucinogens on patients with mental health disorders.
“And it was the recreational use of these substances in the ’60s that actually banned everything, put an end to all this interesting research that was done long ago and is starting to emerge again,” Eaton said.
“So, I hope this doesn’t lead to recreational misuse of these substances, but rather really opens up the clinical and religious uses that have a framework that people have to follow when they delve into these experiences.
Another measure of legitimacy is that a UK company has patented a synthetic version of magic mushrooms for use in the treatment of depression, said Kathy Griswold, Board Member, D-2nd Ward.
“It started trading on NASDAQ last Friday and stocks jumped 71% in one day,” she said. “So I think that shows that there is serious consideration for this product and that it will be a great treatment product.”
Council members heard arguments from several people supporting the DNA2 campaign on Monday evening.
“As a therapist, I see people on their tails every day, trying to get help for things like treatment-resistant depression, substance abuse, anxiety, PTSD and anxiety. end of life, ”said Julie Barron, CEO of DNA2, adding that the rates of these cases are on the rise with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a lot of scientific evidence and clinical trials regarding the benefits of entheogenic plants and fungi, she said, expressing concern that they are not available to the people of Ann Arbor without them. fear of arrest and prosecution.
“This resolution aims to restore our connection to ourselves and to restore the connection to nature,” she said.
Taryn Schiff, a local mental health professional specializing in psychedelic integration, said she also works with people with chronic depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“I have to deal with people on a daily basis taking the same medications, repeating the same treatments and still not finding a way out of their symptoms,” she says.
In her search for better ways to help patients, she said, she has followed the growing body of evidence showing how entheogenic plants can provide mental health benefits and be effective in treating pervasive psychiatric disorders. .
Anthropologists have found evidence that they have been used as healing agents for thousands of years, Schiff said, saying they were much less likely to produce harmful side effects than pharmaceutical drugs.
Diana Quinn, a naturopath in Ann Arbor, said she specializes in integrative mental health.
“A lot of times people come to me looking for holistic and integrative options when conventional medical treatments are insufficient to provide the results people need, or when they create unwanted effects,” she said.
Some of the most promising therapies medicine has to offer are in the area of psychedelics, she said.
As a second-generation Mexican-American of Mexican descent, Quinn said she spent the last few years training to work with them in traditional ceremonies.
“These teachings and ceremonies have been used extensively by the indigenous peoples of the Americas for thousands of years,” she said. “Western biomedical science is just beginning to catch up with indigenous wisdom.”
Bannister said she appreciated the contribution of the professionals who spoke.
“In addition to the speakers, we have received letters from veterans associations, non-profit organizations that help veterans cope with their trauma and suicide rate, urging us to do so. tonight, and other letters from end-of-life nonprofits trying to help with people who die with dignity and understand their deaths, ”she said. “And we even got letters from here to the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve.”
Julie Grand, board member, D-3rd Ward, said in her work at the University of Michigan, she has worked with students with chronic depression who don’t expect to live long.
“It can be very hard for them to see a future and they’ve just tried everything, and it doesn’t feel good to be on the other side and feel hopeless, and it’s obviously a lot worse for them and their families. , “she said.” So I believe anything we can do to help advance this type of treatment is worth putting our names and our support behind us. “
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