Prineville and Crook County leaders to refer psilocybin ban to voters
City and county officials will ask voters to decide if psilocybin businesses and production should be allowed in Prineville and Crook County.
Measure 109, which passed in the 2020 general election, authorizes the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a program to permit licensed service providers to administer psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to individuals 21 years of age or older. The measure garnered 55.75% voter approval statewide, but it was rejected by 64.53% of Crook County voters.
The measure includes a provision that allows local governments to opt out of allowing psilocybin facilities and production by passing an ordinance that refers the matter to local voters. Otherwise, communities opt into the program by default.
During the past couple weeks, the Prineville City Council and Crook County Court have acted on the opt-out provision. City councilors discussed an ordinance at its late July meeting and the county court considered an ordinance at its meeting this past Wednesday. Their actions are not only prompted by the county vote on Measure 109, but by the unique timeline associated with opting out.
Oregon Health Authority is not expected to adopt administrative rules on how to apply requirements of the measure until this December. But by then, it will be too late for communities to make a decision — the deadline to refer the decision to opt out to voters is Aug. 17. Consequently, local leaders have determined the safest option is to opt out while it is still an option, with the ability to reverse course later when more is known about the psilocybin program.
Temporary or permanent ban?
The city council considered two potential ordinances. One would impose a temporary two-year ban on psilocybin facilities inside the Prineville city limits. The other ordinance is a permanent ban with no sunset date.
Most councilors favored a permanent ban out of concern that they would not necessarily be able to impose a new ban if they wanted to continue it beyond two years.
"We just don't know enough," Councilor Jeff Papke said.
Councilor Ray Law added that a permanent ban gives the city more flexibility. They can continue the ban for longer than two years, or they could choose to shorten its duration.
But other councilors argued for the temporary ban, primarily out of concern that a potentially helpful resource for mental health could indefinitely get withheld from residents. Patricia Jungmann noted that Oregon is annually one of the top states for number of people suffering from depression.
"We are one or two every year -- 25% of our people have depression in this state," she said, noting that it leads to more suicides, hurts work productivity and has a huge impact on the medical profession. "They have been doing (psilocybin) studies in the U.K., in Australia, Switzerland — all of them are showing that it doesn't just halt the depression, it takes care of it, it's gone. This could be a breakthrough. When I started reading about this, I got a ray of hope."
Councilor Janet Hutchison echoed her view, saying "many people are suffering from mental health issues."
"If this is a tool that can be used to help with medical issues and with suicide, I think we need to leave it open and do it as a temporary ban," she said.
Ultimately, the majority of the council felt more comfortable with a permanent ban, voting in favor of it 4-2 (Mayor Jason Beebe was not in attendance). The council must vote on the ordinance a second time for it to take effect. They plan to cast that vote at their next meeting, Aug. 9.
Crook County officials also considered two ordinances, although they were both permanent bans of psilocybin facilities within the county and outside of Prineville city limits. Both ordinances utilized language from a League of Oregon Cities sample ordinance, but one of them included Crook County's voting tally on Measure 109.
During a subsequent public hearing on the ordinance, local representatives from CLEAR Alliance, a statewide drug and impaired driving education nonprofit, spoke. Tory Kurtz pointed out that Oregon currently ranks first nationally in illicit drug use in the past month, meth use in the past year, pain reliever misuse in the past year and marijuana use in the past year.
"Furthermore, the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows Oregon ranks number two in the nation for addiction and last in the United States for access to treatment.
Mandi Puckett, the nonprofit's director, went on to express concern that allowing psilocybin facilities in Crook County would normalize use of the drug and cause youth to view it as less harmful.
"What message are we sending to our youth," she remarked.
County Court members voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance that includes the local voting data.
"I think it's important to show people in Crook County what their friends and neighbors think," said County Judge Seth Crawford. "People who have moved here more recently need to see what the community said on that."
Like the city ordinance, the county must vote on its ordinance a second time for it to take effect. That vote is expected to take place at the next county court meeting, Aug. 17.
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