Drug aficionados seem to love magic mushrooms. They're not as mindblowing as LSD, but they provide the full psychedelic trip experience lacking in marijuana. They've been embraced by hippies and ravers alike, and in 1975, they were endorsed by drug guru Terence McKenna in a book he co-authored, The Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide.
While experts warn psilocybin, the active ingredient in 'shrooms, is a serious drug on a plane much higher than cannabis, a dispensary owner and mayoral candidate from Marina recently co-authored preliminary initiative language that seeks to legalize the drug for those 21 and older in the Golden State.
"This initiative exempts adults, 21 and over, from criminal penalties and decriminalizes adult use of psilocybin," according to the filing with the state attorney general. The would-be law modification also "exempts adults, 21 and over, from California health and safety codes which otherwise prohibit possession, sale, transport and cultivation of psilocybin."
The decriminalization world isn't exactly embracing the proposal. The Drug Policy Alliance is withholding its position.
"DPA agrees that no one should be arrested or incarcerated simply because they possess or use psilocybin or other drugs," the alliance's senior legal affairs director Tamar Todd said via email. "However, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether to run or support a ballot measure in California, and DPA does not yet have a position on this measure at this time."
Whether this is a serious run for the 2018 ballot is a legitimate question. It takes about $2 million to $3 million to collect the 365,880 valid voter signatures required to make the ballot. Then organizers would need even more cash to run a campaign seeking affirmative votes. As it stands, the proposal's language needs to be approved for "circulation," so it could be used to collect those signatures.
While the time might be right to feed off the momentum of California's November passage of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana, Todd said her organization, which was instrumental in that measure's success, has other priorities these days.
"We are currently focused on the safe and just rollout of marijuana regulation and our work to reduce the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses or deported for entering drug treatment post-arrest, and to reduce the number of people who die of drug overdose in California," she said.
Magic mushroom legalization would face the same dilemma as marijuana: It might end up being legal in California, but it could still get you federal prison time because it's outlawed at the highest possible level.
Even Charles Grob, a UCLA psychiatrist who was the first academic to receive federal approval to conduct research on psilocybin as a possible treatment of anxiety in adults with cancer, argues that legalization is not the way forward.
"We're just scratching the surface in regards to our knowledge of psilocybin," he says. "It may be of great benefit to some but harmful to others."
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He cited anecdotes of users leaping to their deaths, LSD-style, because the psychedelic effects of the drug can be overwhelming for folks with "underlying circumstances." While psilocybin is "relatively nontoxic," he says, "it can become dangerous very quickly."
In medical settings it has shown promise in treating cancer patients' anxiety, and there are "promising studies" in the works examining how mushrooms might help treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and chronic alcoholism, Grob says.
The professor, seen as a luminary of science among many psychedelic drug adherents, is no fan of the war on drugs. But he thinks maybe it's too soon when it comes to legalizing 'shrooms.
"The issue of compounds like this needs to be shifted away from the legal and judicial system over to medical health and mental health," he says. "Incarceration for possession and sale for modest amounts of these compounds is harmful to family and society. But it's a complicated matter."