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Jackson County asks state to tighten psychedelic mushroom rules

Jackson County commissioners are asking the Oregon Health Authority to tighten draft state regulations on psychedelic mushrooms. [Associated Press file photo]

Jackson County commissioners want the state to limit the number of licenses it issues to grow psychedelic mushrooms to an amount that would reasonably supply the legal market.

They also want facilities that give mushroom doses to clients to have on-site security and emergency medical staff. Commissioners don’t want businesses that have alcohol or marijuana licenses to be able to get a license to administer psychedelic mushrooms.

County commissioners voted Thursday to send a letter requesting the regulations to Oregon Health Authority. OHA is drafting state rules in preparation for the launch of psychedelic mushroom businesses in January.

According to draft rules, OHA has no plans to limit the number of licenses it issues to growers.

Mushroom proponents have said one facility the size of a house could supply all the mushrooms needed for therapeutic use in Jackson County. Proponents said if there are too many growers and they can’t make a profit, they’ll go out of business — solving the problem of too many growers.

Jackson County Counsel Joel Benton said the state could see a repeat of the problems Oregon saw after voters legalized recreational marijuana.

The state government didn’t limit growing licenses to a number that could supply the legal market in Oregon. Legal and illegal growers are producing too much, leading to diversion to the black market in Oregon and other states.

“That’s exactly what we heard with cannabis. ‘Oh, well. If there’s too much, the price will go down and people will go out of business.’ Turns out, they found alternative markets to send their product to,” Benton said.

Oregonians voted in 2020 to allow licensed facilitators to administer mushrooms grown by licensed growers. The mushrooms have to be consumed by clients at licensed facilities. The industry launches in 2023 after OHA finalizes regulations.

Unlike medical and recreational marijuana in Oregon, psychedelic mushrooms can’t legally be sold to the public at retail shops. Clients will only be able to get mushrooms at the facilities licensed to administer the fungi, according to Oregon’s proposed regulations.

Some businesses already are circumventing the proposed psychedelic mushroom therapy regulations.

The national business Psychedelic Passage, for example, is encouraging people to buy black market mushrooms and hire their own personal “psychedelic guide,” also called a “trip sitter.”

A trip sitter watches over people while they ingest mushrooms at home. The cost of the service starts at $1,500 and can go over $3,000. The business offers the service in a range of Oregon cities, including Medford, according to Psychedelic Passage’s website.

The business says customers have to provide their own psychedelic mushrooms.

However, there won’t be anywhere legal for customers to buy them in Oregon.

“Psychedelic Passage does not provide psychoactive or controlled substances nor are we licensed therapists, counselors or medical professionals,” the business says in a disclaimer on its website.

Psychedelic Passage notes that while personally buying psychedelic mushrooms isn’t legal in Oregon, a person caught with mushrooms illegally faces only a $100 ticket because voters previously downgraded penalties for possession of user amounts of drugs like mushrooms, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine.

The business also provides trip sitters for people using other psychedelic drugs such as LSD and ecstasy.

“Please understand that psychedelics are still federally controlled substances, and you assume all the risk associated with possessing and consuming these medicines,” Psychedelic Passage says.

For those seeking to buy from illegal sources, experts experienced in growing various types of mushrooms warn that people can poison themselves by consuming the wrong kind of mushroom.

Psychedelic Passage says it can’t guarantee clients won’t have a “bad trip,” meaning one that is frightening or disturbing. The business says using psilocybin, the ingredient in mushrooms that triggers hallucinations and sensory distortion, can bring up a person’s fears and repressed emotions, but it’s all part of growing stronger.

“In a plant medicine ceremony, you get what you need, not what you think you need. This is only possible because of the innate intelligence of the psilocybin-containing mushrooms,” Psychedelic Passage says.

Jackson County commissioners voiced concerns that people could experience a mental or physical health emergency while using psychedelic mushrooms. They also could become violent during a bad trip. That could put more strain on local ambulance services and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s a cost to the taxpayers and to the county,” said Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

County commissioners voted to ask OHA to require on-site security and medical personnel.

Like marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms are not federally legal, which restricts businesses’ ability to use banks.

“They’re operating on faith that they’ll have all this cash and these drugs and no one will rob them,” Jordan said of proposed mushroom businesses.

He noted legal marijuana business operators and illegal operators have been victims of violent crime in Jackson County when criminals came to steal their cash and marijuana.

OHA has drafted rules about how long a client has to stay at a mushroom business after ingesting various amounts of fungi.

Mushroom businesses that also provided alcohol or marijuana on site could add to a person’s intoxication, creating hazards on the road and in communities, Jordan said.

County commissioners are asking OHA to not issue mushroom licenses to businesses that have alcohol or marijuana licenses.

In addition to sending their comments about state rules to OHA, county commissioners will hold a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, about potential local regulations on mushroom businesses in unincorporated parts of the county. The hearing is in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

For information on accessing the hearing live online, see jacksoncounty.org.

The Jackson County Planning Commission has recommended mushroom businesses be allowed in a fairly wide variety of zones as long as they’re at least 1,000 feet from schools. County commissioners will make the final decision on local rules, which can cover things like where businesses can locate and their hours of operation.

Research is ongoing, but some studies show psilocybin in psychedelic mushrooms can help with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life distress.

Oregonians won’t have to show they have any of those conditions in order to take mushrooms at a business that administers mushrooms, said Jackson County Development Services Director Ted Zuk.

Guided mushroom sessions with a licensed facilitator at a licensed business aren’t expected to be cheap.

Ashland Consciousness Medicine at Hidden Springs is already offering therapy with the psychedelic substance ketamine. For one individual, the cost is $1,355 for a medical and psychological evaluation, preparation session, ketamine use session and integration session to process the experience, according to the business’s website.

Doing the therapy process in a group costs $1,025 per person, according to Ashland Consciousness Medicine.

The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board Equity Subcommittee is tasked with coming up with ideas for making psychedelic mushroom therapy accessible and affordable to more people.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.