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County commissioners delayed a decision on whether to ask voters to ban psilocybin services.

Columbia County commissioners delayed a vote this week on whether to ask voters to place a temporary ban on psilocybin production and use.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 109, allowing the manufacture and use of psilocybin in licensed facilities. Following two years of planning, the Oregon Health Authority will start issuing licenses for psilocybin service centers in January 2023.

Columbia County voters narrowly approved Measure 109, which allows local governments to prohibit the psilocybin service centers and manufacturers, but only if voters approve.

Throughout Oregon, cities and counties are considering bans or regulations on the facilities.

County commissioners in neighboring Washington County voted not to place a ban on the ballot this fall. The Scappoose City Council also opted not to do so.

However, the St. Helens City Council will ask voters if they want to ban the facilities, with Mayor Rick Scholl saying earlier this month, "If voters want to have it, they can. If not, they'll shoot it down. But we'll give it to the voters."

Cities and counties have until Aug. 19 to send a ballot measure to elections officials for the Nov. 8 ballot, but the Oregon Health Authority's ongoing rule making process is complicating the decision.

Only a portion of the rules that will direct the production and administration of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic chemical found in "magic mushrooms," have been published.

Without the full statewide rules established, local government leaders are unsure of what additional local regulations may be needed — or what efforts could ultimately be a waste of time and resources.

"If we appear to be essentially ready for it, and know that those rules are nearly complete, then ... I think it'd be a waste of resources to send out a temporary ban to the voters and then turn around a month or two later," Columbia County Commissioner Casey Garrett said.

Commissioner Henry Heimuller voiced similar concerns, asking if enacting regulations or a ban without knowing the state's full rules would be "an exercise in futility."

"My intent would be to repeal (a ban) as soon as possible, once we have our ducks in a row," Garrett said at the board's Aug. 10 meeting.

Heimuller and Garrett asked the county's legal counsel to return at their next meeting — Aug. 17, only two days before the deadline to file the ballot measure — and bring more information regarding the state's rulemaking timeline and what the county land development services department anticipates for any code changes. Commissioner Margaret Magruder was not present for the Aug. 10 meeting.

The Oregon Health Authority will convene three rules advisory committees to evaluate draft rules in September.

The complete rules are not expected to be finalized until the end of December. At that point, local governments would likely not have time to prepare and enact local regulations before the health authority starts issuing licenses in January.

If a business is established in compliance with the rules in effect at the time, the business generally can't be legally forced out by later regulations.

The Oregon Psilocybin Services division of the OHA "will share the first drafts of remaining rules in advance of the (rules advisory committee) meetings scheduled to take place in September," according to the health authority.

The OHA added: "The draft rules will be updated based on (advisory committee) input, and the next version of proposed rules will be made available in early November for a public comment period that will include public hearings in mid-November."

Three Columbia County residents urged the county commissioners to reject an ordinance that would send a ban to voters, all citing the growing evidence of psilocybin's efficacy in treating depression and other disorders.

Wayne Johnston, an Iraq War veteran, said he has experienced severe post-traumatic stress disorder, with debilitating night terrors and flashbacks, since his service. He used psilocybin as part of a trial conducted in Portland by the Department of Veterans Affairs earlier this year, he said, adding that the treatment "has changed my life."

Psilocybin "rewired my brain," Johnston said, and has helped him consider the possibility "that I can conquer PTSD," he said.

"There are veterans that are coming home with the same afflictions that I had. I was shot and injured in 2010 and I came home with very bad PTSD," the Scappoose resident said. "With the right therapy, the right therapist … it is a very, very strong medicine to help people in my situation."

Mira Mickiewicz, a Clatskanie resident who works in drug and alcohol treatment at Medicine Wheel Recovery Services in St. Helens, also urged the commissioners to reject the proposed two-year ban on psilocybin services.

"What I see in the line of work that I'm in now is that time is of the essence," she said.

Psilocybin treatment has been shown "time and time again, in many research studies, to be safe and effective for people dealing with depression, with anxiety, with severe PTSD ... and with addiction. Some of those people, in the intervening time of the two-year ban, may die by suicide, may die by overdose," said Mickiewicz, who noted she was not speaking on behalf of Medicine Wheel.

"Our citizens in Columbia County deserve every possible chance to experience the healing that comes from this medicine. It's not just for playing around with a trip. It's deep healing," she added.

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