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Issue will appear on the November general election ballot whether to allow service centers to locate in Newberg

DREAMSTIME PHOTO - After lengthy discussion during its July 18 work session, the Newberg City Council unanimously voted during the business session in favor of a permanent ban on psilocybin service centers and referred the question to the voters.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 109, the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, by a large margin. Despite being hailed by clinicians and the Federal Food and Drug Administration as a breakthrough treatment for depression and anxiety, opponents worried that allowing another legal intoxicant would further impact communities already dealing with rampant drug use.

Measure 109 created a regulatory framework for the production of psilocybin and charged administration of the system to the Oregon Health Authority. The OHA, now in the midst of public listening sessions, will be responsible for writing the rules for production and distribution of the drug via service centers. The measure requires that a physician prescribe micro doses of the drug and that it been administered only at the service center. It cannot be sold for recreational use from service centers.

"I hope folks will understand that the use is for medical applications in a controlled environment," Newberg Mayor Rick Rogers said.

The measure also gave communities a role in the form of three choices: take no action, which would require the city to adopt regulations for allowing manufacturers and service centers; enact a permanent ban and refer it to the ballot; enact a two-year moratorium and refer it to the ballot.

After lengthy discussion during its July 18 work session, the Newberg City Council unanimously voted during the business session in favor of a permanent ban and referring the question to the voters.

City Manager Will Worthey commented that the state has given cities little direction on the issue and although there is a potential for businesses manufacturing and distributing the drug, the state has yet to establish any rules.DREAMSTIME PHOTO - Despite being hailed by clinicians and the FDA as a breakthrough treatment for depression and anxiety, opponents of psilocybin worry that allowing another legal intoxicant would further impact communities already dealing with rampant drug use.

"This is virgin territory, in effect, and would involve a lot of (Community Development Director Doug Rux's) research time and a lot of other staff," he said.

"My preference is that we just ban this completely, let it go to the voters, let them decide," councilor Mike McBride said. "I think this is just opening up a box we don't want to deal with. This is part of the homeless situation (that) is the mental illness that drugs cause and this leads to other drugs. Because I saw it in the '70s, you know. We don't need to have this in our town."

Councilor Elise Yarnell Holllamon said she understood McBride's sentiment on recreational use of the drug, but not its medical use, and doubted that there's a "huge population" that would be using it medicinally.

Philosophically, she said she doesn't believe allowing growing the drug within the city is going to tempt people to use shrooms as there are "very different philosophies" on marijuana and psylocibins.

"I don't think that this is something that we need to be split on," she said. "I would like to see this as something we could get to a consensus as a group. Because I don't see psilocybin as the drug of choice for people that are chronically homeless or struggling with mental health."

Rogers said his limited research on the subject determined that psylocibins can be used for treatment of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), as well as helping smokers quit the habit. He added that it appears that the market for psychedelic mushrooms is projected to be in the billions by 2027, "so it's big money."

He agreed with the philosophy of taking the issues to the voters, but the idea of the council letting voters decide what businesses will be allowed and which will not, "that gets a bit sticky for me, but I think in this case we've got something that is so new that I could see it."

He added that he worries that the city will get caught up in what McBride referred to as "the magic mushrooms of the 70s" thinking because from a therapeutic standpoint this could be a breakthrough for people who are struggling with mental health issues. He wanted to ensure that the mental health part of the equation not be downplayed in the discussion.

New councilor Peggy Kilburg said her views paralleled McBride's and that people who want to purchase psilocybin mushrooms could probably get them elsewhere.

"From what I understand there are a lot of people that aren't using it for medical reasons," she said. "I just think we should veer away from it."

Longtime councilor Denise Bacon said while she saw the benefits of the drug for medicinal purposes, she was also OK with letting the voters decide the city's path on the issue. "Make it their decision to the future of Newberg and if this is what they want the future of Newberg to be a part of, or not," she said.

What is psilocybin?

That depends on who you ask. The Drug Enforcement Administration considers it a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Psilocybin is illegal under federal law and a DEA fact sheet says the drug can cause nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and lack of coordination.

On the other hand, a study by the National Institutes of Health concludes psilocybin-assisted treatment "may have enormous potential in psychiatric medicine, as evidenced by decades of multiple clinical studies."

That NIH study also mentions psilocybin in an uncontrolled "recreational" setting can lead to all the side effects the DEA mentioned, along with what they call a "bad trip."

Ballot Measure 109 does not allow recreational use of psilocybin, only therapy in licensed treatment centers.

The OHA will begin taking applications for licenses in January. Applications for service center and manufacturer licenses are required and must conform to local land use laws. Local governments can adopt regulations on the hours, location and operation of the service centers.

County considering moratorium

The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners took up the issue at its July 14 meeting and are considering a measure that would place a two-year moratorium on siting service centers in rural areas.

County Planning Director Ken Friday commented that there has been little direction from the state since the measure's approval and that he has "lots of concerns and questions" that have so far gone unanswered.

"For that reason alone, I would encourage the board to seriously look at placing this on the ballot to either opt out or to opt out for, like, three years and see how this develops," he said.

He added, however, that he is excited about the benefits of psilocybin treatment from a medical standpoint, saying that he has several relatives that could probably benefit from it.

"It's just the land use side of it that I'm concerned about. Where are we going to place the service centers, what are the service centers going to look like?" he said.

After lengthy discussion Commissioner Casey Kulla likened the process the county could take to regulate a psilocybin manufacturing facility to that of a winery applying to construct a tasting room on rural land. Specific conditions could be set by the county as to the facility's hours, transportation on county roads, amount of production allowed and other facets.

"So, my point is that I'm realizing we have a process," he said.

The commissioners didn't make any decisions at the July 14 meeting but are expected to continue the conversation at one of its August meetings. That will give county staff more time to research the issue after conferring with state officials.

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