In a mad dash, Oregon psilocybin centers face bans across the state before any have opened
Advocates say misinformation could result in psilocybin therapy becoming inaccessible in much of rural Oregon.
Outside McMinnville, tucked in between huge vineyards and State Highway 18, farmer Jason Lampman runs a small, one-acre operation. He squeezes in as many plants as possible, making the most of the available space: apples, cherries, walnut trees and other crops.
But for Lampman, a father of three who moved to McMinnville five years ago to farm, having such a small plot makes it difficult to turn a profit. It’s why he also grows more lucrative crops like hemp and cannabis, and why he now has his eye on a new crop: psilocybin, also known as magic mushrooms.
“Being a new, emerging industry, it’s a great addition to a small farm where we don’t have room to expand,” Lampman said of psilocybin.
Starting in January, Oregon will become the first state to legalize psilocybin use in clinical settings, nearly two years after voters approved Measure 109. The treatment will be administered in permitted service centers under the watch of a trained facilitator. Oregonians will also be able to apply for permits to grow the crop.
Research suggests psilocybin could be effective in treating such behavioral disorders as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.
But large portions of Oregon may lose access to this treatment before a single center opens. That’s because Measure 109 allows local governments the option to send the issue back to voters, either for a total ban or a two-year moratorium.
Advocates say fear is fueling the efforts against psilocybin, driven in part by widespread misconceptions about the drug and what access will look like when Measure 109 takes effect in January.
Since late July, a flurry of local governments have taken steps to add measures on psilocybin bans to the November ballot. As of Monday, more than 40 cities and counties will likely have some kind of psilocybin ban before voters in the general election, with more expected by Sept. 8. The vast majority are considering complete bans. If passed, the measures would create expansive tracts in Eastern, Central and Southern Oregon where people would not be able to access psilocybin.
Sam Chapman, executive director of the Healing Advocacy Fund, was the campaign manager for Measure 109. He said the widespread bans could render psilocybin inaccessible for rural Oregonians.
“These are people who, often in rural communities, already have a hard time accessing mental health care if at all,” Chapman said. “To take one additional option away from them, I do feel is unfortunate.”
Chapman watched several of the meetings where local officials took up the issue and noticed a common misconception — many believe that psilocybin will be recreationally available like cannabis. Measure 109 does not allow for recreational sales of psilocybin, he said.
Oregon does allow local governments to opt-out of having cannabis retailers in their areas. Ninety-eight municipalities have bans in place, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Comparisons between psilocybin and cannabis have been on display in recent weeks, including in Deschutes County, where 52% of voters approved Measure 109. Commissioners voted 3-2 to send psilocybin back to voters, with Patti Adair citing concern over increased crime.
“With (legal) marijuana, we thought it would stop the cartel from coming — it didn’t,” Adair said. “We know the cartel is here.”
Commissioner Phil Chang responded that there’s no evidence legalizing a drug increases black market demand, and that he thought a ballot measure to prohibit psilocybin was “wasting tax-payer dollars.”
Government leaders in various jurisdictions were also concerned that the Oregon Health Authority had not yet released all of its rules on psilocybin centers. A draft of the final rules are expected in September, weeks after the Aug. 19 deadline to advance a measure for the ballot.
Others were simply skeptical that treatment with the drug would work at all. When the Prineville City Council sent a ballot measure to voters, some councilors said they weren’t sure it would be effective, while others said the training for facilitators is not rigorous enough.
“It sounds to me kind of like you’re gonna pay legally to go do drugs at a facility and we’re gonna make sure you don’t hurt yourself,” Councilor Raymond Law said.
Dr. Anthony Back, a University of Washington researcher leading a trial on the effectiveness of psilocybin, said while there are certainly side effects, there’s no shortage of research on the drug’s effectiveness.
“There may be other reasons that those counties want to opt-out,” Back said. “You can’t use a lack of research as the reason.”
Not all counties approve ban
When Jason Lampman heard his home of Yamhill County was considering a similar ban, he immediately sprang into action.
He started posting daily on Instagram, encouraging people to write to the commission. He also started attending more county meetings, providing more information about psilocybin and its potential benefits.
“(The commission) sounded like they didn’t have any information about it at all,” he said. “It sounded like they were scared.”
He encouraged many others to testify. One of them was Josh Longoria, who co-owns a gardening store in McMinnville.
Longoria suffers from migraines, which can last for months at a time and sometimes force him to miss work.
He said he’s hoping to start psilocybin therapy, both to treat the migraines and the depression that often accompanies them.
“When (the migraines are) going on, it just drains me to where I don’t want to do anything,” Longoria said. “I’ve had friends that have microdosed psilocybin, and it seems to help them in a really big way. So I’m looking forward to being able to try that out.”
He said it’s important to have a safe space where he can take psilocybin while someone is watching to make sure he’s safe.
When the commission finally considered the ban measure on Aug. 11, it was clear the testimony of Lampman and others had an impact. The normally conservative commission opted not to send a ban to voters, citing the testimony as a big reason.
“At the beginning of this I thought, ‘We just need to do a total ban on this.’ Then I listened to people give testimony,” Commissioner Mary Starrett said. “There is an appropriate therapeutic use of this.”
Lampman and other supporters hugged afterward, their faces beaming with surprise. Lampman said he did not expect that result, but that it felt good to know they had listened.
“I was so happy — it’s unbelievable,” he said.
The outcome for much of the rest of Oregon will be up to the voters who see the issue again in November.
Copyright Oregon Public Broadcasting