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Seattle City Council urges decriminalization of shrooms

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Photo courtesy of Ski
Photo courtesy of Ski

On Monday, October 4, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of decriminalizing the use of natural psychedelic drugs, like mushrooms containing psilocybin. The resolution also asks the Seattle Police Department to treat psilocybin substance-related issues as its lowest priority.

Councilmember Andrew Lewis sponsored the resolution. He reminded his fellow city council members that these substances, such as mushrooms, have been sacred to different cultures and spiritual practices for centuries, but are criminalized like any other schedule 1 drug. However, under current enforcement practices, the police already do not detain or arrest persons solely for possession of entheogens (psychedelic drugs).

While all council members agreed to pass the resolution, Councilmember Kshama Swant voiced disapproval, out of concern that it doesn't go far enough. She was disappointed the city council did not seek to pass an ordinance, which would decriminalize entheogenic substances, instead of just urging the SPD to alter its guidelines.

While the ordinance does not decriminalize the substances, it sets a precedent for allowing consumption and cultivation to occur legally within Seattle city limits. This is good news for local mushroom growers.

"Ski" has been growing mushrooms in Seattle for the last seven years. He sees the resolution as a sign that views are shifting when it comes to public understanding of mushrooms. He hopes this gradual shift will help people differentiate between substances like mushrooms and more harmful drugs, such as LSD.

"Mushrooms are classified as a schedule 1 drug according to the federal government, which puts it alongside a whole slew of drugs that are extremely dangerous and highly addictive," said Ski. "You simply do not hear of someone struggling with mushroom addiction. They are not known to destroy people's lives or be the cause of an overdose. I think it is important to remove them from the schedule 1 classification."

A natural substance
One of the reasons the city council agreed to the new resolution was because mushrooms are a natural substance. Unlike manufactured psychedelics, which are excluded from the resolution, mushrooms are not created in a lab and have not been shown to lead users to form harmful and addictive attachments.

"Mushrooms are a natural and organic growing substance from planet Earth. It is not the creation of human beings, nor is it something that is altered in some way by human hands," said Ski.

Because they are naturally occurring substances, mushrooms tend to be harder to criminalize and regulate. This was also one of the reasons Washington State passed Initiative 502, legalizing adult consumption of marijuana, in 2012.

After the Supreme Court of Washington State ruled earlier this year that it is unconstitutional to criminalize possession of controlled substances, buzz began to circulate that the state may seek to decriminalize the possession of mushrooms. The Seattle resolution is one step closer to that goal in that it asks the Office of Intergovernmental Relations to add the decriminalization of entheogens to its 2022 agenda.

Health benefits of mushrooms
Another major factor that led the city council to consider the decriminalization of mushrooms is the possibilities that the substance offers for medical treatment of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. "These non-addictive natural substances have real potential in clinical and therapeutic settings to make a significant difference in people's lives," Councilmember Lewis said in support of the resolution. He cited several studies circulating through the scientific community that point to the potential health benefits of mushrooms.

"Well-rounded mental health requires a variety of positive influences in a person's life, and the usage of mushrooms should be a safe and available option," said Ski. While experiences may vary — and he suggests talking with a doctor or mental health provider before considering mushrooms to treat any mental illness — he also notes that the substance can be beneficial for improving mental health.

"Personally, for me, and for many people I have known, an experience on mushrooms can help with clarity. There is testimony after testimony of a person being relieved from stress, resolving personal issues, and experiencing joy after a mushroom trip. And also, just simply enjoying life by dipping into a 4- to 8-hour psychedelic mushroom experience can improve the quality and mental health of someone's life."

A far-out future
Though city councilmembers have expressed their hope that psilocybin can become a state-regulated and legal substance soon, Ski is more skeptical. "I think more places will get on board, but there will always be pockets of resistance," he says.

"I think psychedelics are illegal because of what was seen during the 1960s' cultural revolution, where, as a result of LSD, the mind opened into areas we probably wished we could have kept closed. Psychedelic mushrooms were instantly lumped into the same category, probably out of fear. I don't think they should be in the same category, because the dosage can be more easily moderated."

Because future state legalization or even decriminalization is still up in the air, growers are unable to fully prepare for what it would mean for their businesses. For example, in the wake of marijuana legalization, small growers and sellers were put out of business due to high taxes and commercial stores moving in.

For Ski, growing mushrooms is less of a business and more of a passion. His end goal isn't to make money but to connect with nature and his community. "Some people grow bonsai; I grow mushrooms. I use them occasionally and like giving them away as a gift." Because his end goal is never about profit, he isn't too worried about legalization negatively affecting his practice. Instead, he sees it as a positive.

"I think the main thing is that I no longer have to live in fear of getting busted for growing them, and now I can openly explore what the future could be. Now I can start having a conversation about what is next."
While full-on legalization may be years down the road, the city council has taken the first step by passing this resolution. Now Seattleites can access natural psychedelic substances without fear of arrest, mental health practitioners can now recommend these substances, and state lawmakers can start to reassess why mushrooms are categorized as a schedule 1 drug.