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Magic mushroom bans will be up to voters

A number of local cities are considering asking voters to ban or delay allowing psychedelic mushroom therapy in their communities when it becomes legal next year. Opponents and skeptics have raised the specter of an out-of-control black market luring out-of-state operators, as cannabis legalization has done.

Those concerns are probably overblown for a number of reasons. But there is no harm in taking a wait-and-see attitude, given that the state has not even settled on rules and regulations yet.

Oregon voters in November 2020 approved a ballot measure legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for the treatment of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. Oregon is the first state to take that step, but 14 cities have decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, including Denver, Oakland, Detroit, Seattle and Santa Cruz, Calif.

Under the terms of Oregon’s Ballot Measure 109, the only way to legally consume the mushrooms is at an approved site under the supervision of a licensed therapist, who is required to supervise the patient during the experience. Users must be 21. And only one type of mushroom will be allowed.

That’s where mushroom therapy differs dramatically from recreational cannabis use, and even from the medical marijuana system that preceded full legalization. No retail market for mushrooms will be created. Users may not consume them at home.

Mushroom therapy will not be cheap — clinic sessions likely will cost thousands of dollars and won’t be covered by insurance.

Cannabis legalization has attracted clandestine operators from out of state who established huge plantations masquerading as legal production sites, illegally diverting water and using toxic chemicals, abusing workers in slave-like conditions and generally wreaking havoc on rural Southern Oregon, where the climate is especially conducive to growing cannabis.

It’s not clear that this area is any better for mushroom cultivation than any other, and without a major retail market, it’s less likely that large-scale production will result from the limited use allowed under the law.

In any case, the rules and regulations that will govern therapy sessions are still being developed, and the first therapy centers won’t likely open until the middle of next year.

Still, concern among local governments about unintended consequences is understandable, especially given the results of cannabis legalization. Measure 109 allows local communities to opt out if voters ban therapy centers.

So far, Ashland has decided against placing a ban on the ballot, which reflects that community’s 80% approval of Measure 109. Other communities are referring measures to the ballot or considering them. The Jackson County commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed referral next week.

Communities had the chance to opt out of retail cannabis outlets as well, but the prospect of losing out on marijuana sales tax revenue made that a complicated decision. That’s not a factor with psilocybin mushrooms, which won’t be sold to the general public.

Voters will have the final say on banning or delaying psilocybin therapy in their individual communities, which is appropriate. Voters should recognize, however, that saying no to therapy centers doesn’t guarantee that illegal cultivation won’t happen.