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Times have changed; vote yes on Ballot Measure 109

Last May, by the narrow margin of 50.6 percent of the vote, Denver passed Initiative 301, decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms and prohibiting the city from filing criminal charges related to their use or possession by adults. Less than a month later, Oakland passed a similar measure. But so-called “magic mushrooms,” classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, remain illegal at the federal level.

Although the effects of the coronavirus pandemic made gathering 112,020 signatures by July 2 difficult, the psilocybin Initiative — Measure 109 — will appear on the Oregon ballot this November. The measure would allow “manufacture, delivery, administration of psilocybin at supervised, licensed facilities.”

Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, the U.S. government’s current stance is that psilocybin “serves no legitimate medical purpose in the United States.” But our government, heavily represented by elderly men with closed minds, is clearly way behind the times. I too am an elderly man, and I’ll make my point by briefly outlining some relevant history which, having witnessed much of it, I remember well:

In the fall of 1948, police raided a party in Los Angeles and arrested actor Robert Mitchum for smoking marijuana. Afterwards, there was widespread speculation that the raid had been carefully arranged in order to publicize the Los Angeles Police Department’s anti-drug campaign. “Well, this is the end of my career,” Mitchum reportedly said at the time. “My career, my marriage, everything.”

I was only 10 years old in 1948, but I remember the nationwide shock and outrage. My parents talked it over at home and decided they’d never watch one of Mitchum’s movies again. How could he have committed such an unspeakable sin? For years afterwards, they periodically warned me that marijuana served as an inevitable “gateway” to other deadly drugs, and I believed them.

Through the mid-to-late 1950s, I lived in San Francisco, where the beatniks had become established. Everybody knew that Allen Ginsberg and company smoked pot, and, even in San Francisco, few approved. I’d become attracted to reading and writing by then, and began to hang out in North Beach, mostly in the Co-existence Bagel Shop on upper Grant Avenue. I liked the place and most of the people I met there, and I’d read up on cannabis and wasn’t afraid of it anymore. But I didn’t want to end up in jail, so when a jazz musician I knew gifted me with a couple of joints at the Bagel Shop, I flushed them down the men’s room toilet.

I was back in San Francisco by the 1960s, as an Army veteran with a wife and young son and a job at a wholesale meat company in the Mission District. I also took a full course-load of night classes as a graduate student in English language arts at San Francisco State. We had an apartment near the Haight-Ashbury District, and both my wife, Hilde, and I enjoyed the hippie scene. What we liked most was when buses cruised Haight Street so that tourists could ogle the hippies, who often approached the buses holding up large mirrors so that the tourists saw themselves.

With the hippies came psychedelics, and Timothy Leary, a Harvard clinical psychologist who, speaking to 30,000 people at a “Human Be-in” in Golden Gate Park, advised the crowd to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” This suggestion didn’t go over well with either the general public or the government, and due largely to the very negative press generated by Leary, LSD was outlawed in 1966, and magic mushrooms in 1968.

LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) was synthesized by Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman in 1938, and its psychedelic properties were discovered in 1943. By the 1950s, it had become the subject of serious research related to psychology and psychiatry, and showed particular promise in the areas of alcoholism and mood disorders. Psilocybin has been used medicinally and in ceremonies and rituals by many cultures for thousands of years, but by the 1970s, research on all psychedelics had been banned in America.

Finally, in 1990, the hippies having faded from memory, Johns Hopkins University was granted approval to reinstitute research with psychedelics. They’ve since published dozens of peer-reviewed articles, earning worldwide acclaim, and their psilocybin research has been successfully applied to a wide range of maladies: nicotine, alcohol, heroin and opioid addictions; PTSD; depression; Alzheimer’s; Lyme disease; anorexia. Their Center for Psychedelic & Consciousness Research sums things up this way: “Studying healthy volunteers has advanced our understanding of the enduring positive effects of psilocybin and provided unique insight into neurophysiological mechanisms of action, with implications for understanding consciousness and optimizing therapeutic and non-therapeutic enduring positive effects.”

Times have unquestionably changed and, come November, there will be no logically defensible reason for voting no on 109.

Michael Baughman lives in Ashland.