Local psilocybin votes warrant good research
The city of Prineville, Crook County and other local governments statewide find themselves in a unique spot. They all have a window where they can exercise local control over a program approved statewide by Oregon voters.
Measure 109 will likely go down in history, not only in Oregon but nationwide, as the ballot measure that first legalized "shrooms" -- but proponents would probably tell you that's a bit of an oversimplification. Officially speaking, the measure has legalized use of psilocybin for therapeutic purposes by licensed facilitators for qualified clients.
Like a lot of state ballot measures, including the one that opened the door to recreational marijuana use in Oregon a few years back, the idea was favored by a slim majority at the state level but rejected by a wider margin in Crook County. But Measure 109 included a unique caveat — do nothing and you automatically opt into the program and folks are free to set up psilocybin facilities in your community, but local governments have a way to opt out and the mechanism for it is great. They can pass an ordinance and refer it to the voters of the individual jurisdictions. The people get to decide.
Crook County and Prineville leaders are jumping on the opportunity. Both local governments have passed a first reading of an ordinance and a second is sure to follow in the next couple weeks.
But the process isn't perfect. Passage of the measure in November 2020 opened a two-year window for the Oregon Health Authority to develop administrative rules for the psilocybin program. Those rules should be set by the end of December. But … the deadline to refer a psilocybin ban to voters is Aug. 17. So, in effect, the city and county are left asking voters to ban a program that is not fully defined.
This is just one of the complicated facets of the program that voters face. They also have to decide whether there are any merits of the program that make it worthwhile to open the door to legal use of a hallucinogenic drug that is at this point still a Schedule I drug at the federal level. And local leaders have recently heard both sides of the argument.
Representatives from CLEAR Alliance, a drug and impaired driving education organization, cited numerous statistics showing Oregon leads the country in several troubling drug-related metrics, including addiction and lack of treatment services. They added that legalizing psilocybin use in the community sends the wrong message to youth — it's legal so it's not a big deal, it's not dangerous.
But proponents would point out that the intent is not to legalize an illicit drug with no benefit. In 2019, the FDA designated psilocybin therapy as a "breakthrough therapy" for two clinical trials being facilitated by Compass Pathways and Usona Institute, which studied the effects of psilocybin on severe depression and major depressive disorder.
City Councilor Patricia Jungmann refenced the potential benefits as she and her cohorts deliberated on a city ordinance a couple weeks ago. She cited troubling statistics, stating 25% of Oregonians face clinical depression and added that Oregon either leads the country in depression or comes in second each year. She points out that this depression increases the likelihood of suicide, hurts work productivity and puts a strain on medical facilities.
"They have been doing 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," she told her fellow councilors. "This could be a breakthrough. When I started reading about this, I got a ray of hope."
We are not trying to tell people how they should vote this November. But we do strongly suggest that local voters do their homework on psilocybin. It would be easy for opponents to chalk up Measure 109 as another effort to legalize a recreational drug and further open the door for legalized illicit drug use in Oregon. Likewise, it would be easy for proponents to only see the reported health benefits and not consider the unintended consequences of allowing psilocybin facilities in the community. Simply put, it would be easy to not do the research and just vote the way you did two years ago.
But the easy way is not often the better way. Take time to research this and look at both sides of the argument and weigh the merits and consequences. In the end, you might still vote the same way, but your reasoning will be that much better for it.
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