Clackamas County voters to decide on pause of psilocybin plan
Clackamas County voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to approve a two-year pause on places to grow and supervise the use of psilocybin mushrooms in connection with mental health.
County commissioners voted 5-0 July 28 to refer the measure, following an extended discussion two weeks earlier with the county health officer — who also sits on the state psilocybin advisory board — and the manager of the state psilocybin services section of the Oregon Health Authority. The state agency is still writing rules for the program, and will start after Jan. 1 to accept license applications for production facilities and service centers, where the psychoactive drug can be administered.
Oregon voters approved the program under a 2020 initiative, known as Measure 109, by 55.8% statewide and 52.4% in Clackamas County. The measure provided for a two-year phase-in, and it allows cities and counties to opt out of the program if voters approve in a general election, which is held every two years.
"What the voters voted for was an overarching policy," Commissioner Sonya Fischer said. "What we are concerned about is the lack of rules and how things will be implemented."
The proposed ban would run through December 2024, but expire automatically unless voters renew it through another ballot measure.
Commissioners did hear from a Damascus resident who opposed the board's referral of a ballot measure. They heard from the head of addiction medicine at Oregon Health & Science University at their July 14 hearing.
Clackamas County would be Oregon's most populous to decide on such a measure, which would apply only in unincorporated areas outside cities. Washington County rejected referral of a similar two-year ban on a 3-2 board vote Aug. 2. No ballot measures are planned in Multnomah County or Portland.
Voters in Molalla and Sandy will decide on permanent bans already approved by their city councils. That list could grow by the Aug. 19 filing deadline.
Among other large counties where voters will decide measures are Jackson County in Southern Oregon and Deschutes County in Central Oregon — where Measure 109 passed in 2020 — and Marion County, where it was rejected.
Unlike marijuana legalization that Oregon voters approved in 2014, Measure 109 does not make legal adult possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms, does not allow their cultivation by individuals, and does not allow retail sales through dispensaries. Psilocybin can be grown only in state-licensed production facilities — which must be compatible with local land-use requirements — and administered at "service centers," also licensed, by facilitators who have undergone 120 hours of training. They do not have to be medical personnel, and they are not considered therapists.
A different ballot initiative that Oregon voters approved in 2020, known as Measure 110, removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of psilocybin and other drugs.
"Now we're having a problem," Tootie Smith, the Clackamas County board chairwoman, said referring to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is far stronger than morphine. The measure did not legalize it, but it has been found mixed with other drugs that are specified in Measure 110.
Smith said she remains wary of the "service centers," which will be staffed by facilitators but are not licensed medical professionals or therapists.
"I'm not sure what that looks like, but that is a very big problem for me," Smith said. "I don't support its use at this time."
Other commissioners restated their concerns from the July 14 hearing.
"I have no doubt there is evidence out there that certainly, this could be helpful for various conditions," Commissioner Martha Schrader said.
"My concern is that I am not convinced the way the Oregon Health Authority is implementing it is something I particularly feel comfortable with. We need to make sure that if this moves forward, it is implemented in a way that people feel safe."
Commissioner Paul Savas: "What we have seen so far does not provide me or members of this board any comfort that this will be administered in a safe way."
Commissioner Mark Shull acknowledged that psilocybin — which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in 2019 was a breakthrough therapy, but which is still classified under federal law as a drug with no accepted medical use — could be helpful in treating addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"There are some positive potentials coming from the use of psilocybin," he said. "But I too am concerned we are getting the cart before the horse."
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