County officials say they won't have enough time to craft code changes before the new year, prompting temporary ban.

PHOTO COURTESY U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE - County officials are weighing whether to refer a measure to voters this November which would ban on psilocybin treatment facilities in Washington County for two years. The emergence of such centers is possible following the passage of a 2020 state measure.
Oregon is set to begin allowing treatment facilities in 2023 that use psilocybin — the psychoactive compound found in so-called "magic mushrooms" — in therapy.

Washington County could join a growing roster of counties pumping the brakes on the practice, however. County commissioners are poised to ask voters to temporarily ban psilocybin treatment facilities, at least in unincorporated areas, at the November general election.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners introduced and passed the first reading of an ordinance on Tuesday, July 19, that would ban psilocybin treatment centers and manufacturing facilities for two years.

Officials say the step is necessary because the state still hasn't issued its rules on these controlled substances, leaving county land use officials in the lurch.

"We have concerns that we won't really have time to present you with … really any of the rulemaking that would be required," said senior assistant county counsel Rob Bovett during a July 12 work session. "We don't even have draft (Oregon Health Authority) rules yet."

The Oregon Health Authority is expected to issue its rules in August or September of this year, meaning county officials would have just a few months to hash out all of the land use rules and particulars in case someone applied to open a psilocybin facility in Washington County.

Instead, Bovett and others are pushing for a two-year moratorium, which voters would have to approve.

The emergence of psilocybin treatment centers and the discussion surrounding them was made possible in 2020, when Oregon voters approved Measure 109, which allowed for the sale, manufacture and use of psilocybin, a psychoactive component in certain fungi that some mental health professionals have touted for its therapeutic capabilities.

Oregon voters passed the measure with 54% of the vote, and Washington County showed even more favor for the move, with 59% of voters giving it the nod.

The state gave two years for the OHA to release its rules about implementing these kinds of treatment centers, but counties and cities are still waiting to see what its guidance is before amending their own development codes and public health policies.

Some county commissioners in Oregon are unhappy that Oregon has paved the way for psilocybin — which, like marijuana, is listed as a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government — to be legalized.

"It's interesting to me that we're in the midst of investing $75 to $80 million on a center for addiction treatment … and then we deal with a Legislature that approves the use of these," said Commissioner Jerry Willey, referring to the planned Center for Addictions Triage and Treatment, which is slated to open in Beaverton in 2024.

Other counties in Oregon have referred similar bans to voters. Earlier this month, Umatilla County joined a growing list of Eastern Oregon jurisdictions that are wary about a boom in psilocybin service centers. Clackamas County is currently weighing whether to send the question to voters there this fall, too.

Others said that it isn't the role of the county commission to determine the substance's therapeutic value, only to find ways to implement the will of the voters.

While Willey initially said he would prefer an open-ended ban, which would have no firm end date, he is concerned that county voters — two years after approving psilocybin treatment statewide by an 18-point margin — might not approve it. That would effectively leave the county in the same boat it's currently in of scrambling to come up with the needed code amendments that determine what applicable zoning and land use requirements would be.

Chair Kathryn Harrington and Commissioner Pam Treece voted against the ordinance, saying they're comfortable allowing psilocybin sites to open as scheduled in January.

Willey and Commissioners Nafisa Fai and Roy Rogers voted in favor of holding a public hearing on the matter. That motion passed 3-2.

The hearing is scheduled for July 26. The second reading and potential passage of the ordinance is scheduled for Aug. 2.

If the ban moves to the ballot and is approved by voters, it would postpone any psilocybin centers or processing facilities in the unincorporated parts of Washington County until 2024. However, the Board of Commissioners could vote to lift the ban earlier than that.

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