Oregon County Considers Banning Legalized Psilocybin Therapy

    Linn County, a mostly rural area of Oregon, is considering banning psilocybin services. In November 2020, Oregon voters approved legalizing psilocybin therapy through Measure 109. Currently in its implementation phase, it authorizes psilocybin “service centers,” where trained and licensed “facilitators” will administer psilocybin to patients, who will need no specific medial diagnosis. But under the law, individual counties have the right to vote to opt out.

    On June 21, the three-member Linn County Commission unanimously decided to put the issue on the general election ballot this November, giving voters the option to ban psilocybin services. The county is less favorable to psilocybin than the state as a whole: Roughly 55 percent of county voters said no to Measure 109 in 2020; statewide, 55 percent voted yes.

    According to Measure 109, counties can do nothing and let services take effect automatically; or adopt zoning regulations for where services can be located; or go through this process of letting voters decide.

    Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told the local Lebanon Express, “My fear is of young people taking mushrooms and going out and doing things that may cost them their life.”

    Commissioner Will Tucker expressed different reasoning when reached by Filter. “Many of my cities don’t have police or fire departments,” he said. “I have people who are miles and miles from a service like a grocery store.” He stressed long ambulance wait times in the county’s rural districts of between 45-60 minutes, and believes psilocybin centers would be impractical in these places.

    “I would love to see it done carefully and in controlled ways. My son suffers PTSD.”

    But Tucker also explained that the county is preparing a draft resolution stating that if voters favor a ban, it would not apply to incorporated cities in Linn County—such as the largest, Albany. A ban, in that case, would apply only to unincorporated municipalities in rural areas. He emphasized that none of this will be official until the Commission agrees to the final language of the ballot proposal.

    “I would love to see it done carefully and in controlled ways,” Tucker added. “My son suffers PTSD; an Iraq War sniper, he has 100 percent disability … If there’s a way his mental health can be affected by marijuana or other drugs including mushrooms, I’d be all for it.”

    Evan Segura, president of the Portland Psychedelic Society, told Filter that he’s seen very few counties discuss banning psilocybin services—so far. But he did point out one other example: Malheur County on the border with Idaho, is also pursuing a ban. This county hosts numerous cannabis dispensaries, and Segura explained that this draws many visitors from neighboring states. 

    “I think these counties are anticipating there will be a huge wave of interest from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, jumping over the state border to access psilocybin services,” he said. “These conservative counties are just not interested in being guinea pigs for this program, and I’m sure there’s a lot of drug-war prohibitionist hysteria that’s causing fear for them.”

    This dynamic around psilocybin resembles some battles around cannabis in states that have legalized. Filter has reported on the way that some cities and towns in legal-cannabis states have aggressively restricted sales in their jurisdictions.

    For example, 71 percent of New Jersey’s municipalities chose to ban cannabis sales after legalization, and about half of California’s 58 counties still don’t allow sales. And to date, 15 Oregon counties have banned dispensaries. These restrictions hurt consumers who have to drive long distances to buy the drug.

    Despite Measure 109’s success in the popular vote, 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties voted against it. Given the therapeutic purpose of psilocybin servies, bans in some or all of these counties could carry clear harms.

    Under Measure 109, residents may not drive to service centers and buy products to take home; rather, they have to consume psilocybin on-site. If a psilocybin trip lasts 6-8 hours, and you need to drive two hours each way to reach your nearest center, that’s already a 12-hour commitment—without even counting the mandatory “preparation” session patients must attend with their facilitator. Realistically, you would need to stay overnight somewhere. So the already-expensive treatment would have more costs tacked on for gas and lodging, increasing barriers to access.

    Segura predicts that many Oregon counties will ultimately ban psilocybin like they did cannabis.

    It could even create the kind of dangers that Commissioner Nyquist said he wants to avoid. Psilocybin is a low-risk substance, especially when used in the kind of controlled settings mandated by Measure 109. But getting behind the wheel for a long-distance drive after an all-day psilocybin session, perhaps because you can’t afford a hotel, could certainly have risks. 

    Segura doesn’t think this likely, however. “I think that situation is extremely rare,” he said. “I think if people can afford the session, they can afford a hotel, if not just stay at a service center that provides lodging. I think there’s minimal risk of someone going to do psilocybin then getting in their car and driving away.”

    “We don’t ever hear of stories of people eating mushrooms and then doing something dangerous,” he added. “We would hear more of it if it happened more often.”

    But Segura predicts that many Oregon counties will ultimately ban psilocybin like they did cannabis. “I think counties, much like with marijuana, will hold off for a few years,” he said. “But once they see there’s almost no risk and the hysteria is invalid, I think they’ll probably succumb and re-vote to pass it in their counties.”


    Photograph by TherapeuticShroom via Pixabay

    • Alexander is Filter’s staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it’s actually alright. He’s also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter‘s editorial fellow.

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