Oregon Board Rejects Plan to Boost Psilocybin Access, But Fight Goes On

    After a closed-doors discussion on May 25, the Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board voted to reject an “entheogenic practitioners framework.” Some advocates see the idea as a way to make psilocybin accessible to low-income and marginalized people—an area where the state’s current plans to implement legal psilocybin therapy fall short.

    Under the rule-making process—required by law since Oregon voters approved Measure 109 in November 2020—the board must finalize its recommendations by June 30. All recommendations must then be approved by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

    Measure 109 means that the state will authorize psilocybin “service centers,” where trained and licensed “facilitators” will administer psilocybin to patients under their supervision. The law doesn’t require that facilitators have an advanced professional degree, nor that patients have a medical diagnosis. But product testing and training requirements are predicted to create higher costs for businesses that will then be passed on to patients—excluding people who can’t afford the treatment.

    As Filter previously reported, the proposed entheogenic framework would create a parallel set of rules allowing religious or ceremonial psilocybin use. Nonprofit and cooperative spiritual organizations would be granted ceremonial “privileges,” allowing them to partner with other license-holders to hold psilocybin ceremonies with fewer restrictions than the commercial centers. They would also be permitted to grow their own psilocybin mushrooms, to sell to participants at lower cost than under the therapy model.

    “We’re going to need to be very creative in our resistance.” 

    Advocates for the plan are left disappointed by the board’s decision, and have sharply criticized it.

    “They voted on the entire framework as an up-or-down, all-or-nothing deal,” Jon Dennis, the attorney who authored the proposal, told Filter. “They didn’t even propose any amendments …instead of taking the issues one by one, they put it all up.”

    “The majority of board members are from health care fields,” Rebeca Rocha, a social worker and therapist in private practice, told Filter. “The vote against the entheogenic framework shows a possible professional bias. I think there’s a Euro- or American-centrism ignoring what’s happening in the South and Native American communities. These plants and fungi have been used safely.”

    Rocha works with low-income and immigrant populations, and has also researched traditional ayahuasca use in her home country of Brazil. “Spirituality has been a source of big support for marginalized communities, especially racial minorities,” she said. If Measure 109 doesn’t honor that, “we’re going to need to be very creative in our resistance.” 

    Back in March, two independent subcommittees had each approved the framework, recommending that the full board consider it on May 25. But as Marijuana Moment reported, the meeting began with non-public discussions with state health officials and legal advisers—something the board has never done before. In the public portion of the meeting, the board then voted by 10-3 not to recommend the framework.

    Towards the end of the meeting, after discussions of unrelated rules and regulations, board member Dr. Rachel Knox urged reconsideration of the framework at the board’s final meeting on June 22. Yet in a second vote, a narrow majority of board members voted by 6-5 against putting it on the June 22 agenda.

    “They’re trying to do anything they can come up with to cast shade on it. It’s not a good look.”

    While there was no public, in-depth discussion of the framework, board members made comments including that “it is counter to equity,” and that it “feels like something tacked on at the end”.

    “I would just love to know where the funding is coming from and who’s paying the bills for this effort,” said Dr. Todd Korthuis, without substantiating the implication of something untoward. The comment could be seen as ironic; the board’s former chair, Tom Eckert, resigned in March after it emerged that he stood to profit personally from the recommendations he was making for the therapy model. 

    “They’re trying to do anything they can come up with to cast shade on it,” Dennis said. “It’s not a good look.”

    In a clear indicator of what might have been said in the private portion of the meeting, the OHA released a legal memo, also dated May 25, written by the state’s Department of Justice. The state’s lawyers argued that OHA cannot exempt entheogenic practitioners from licensing requirements or rules, or create less restrictive rules for them. And they said that federal religious freedom laws, like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, don’t apply here.

    Dennis described the release of the DOJ’s memo in this way as quite unusual and inappropriate, and said it seemed like a political move. “I’ve never heard of a legal agency publishing its legal advice memo,” he said, “then going to the extraordinary step of emailing it to its entire listserv to say, ‘See, look, there’s this legal reason we can’t do this—end of discussion now, everyone go home.’”

    The DOJ’s arguments reflect a misunderstanding of the framework, Dennis argued. He said that it isn’t designed to exempt entheogenic practitioners from licenses or rules, and that the federal RFRA isn’t necessarily at issue. To the argument that the framework would give religious organizations an unfair (and illegal) privilege, Dennis has responded this can be easily addressed by amending the framework to include “religious or spiritual” organizations, giving secular organizations the same privileges.

    “There’s going to be another petition circulating soon to start generating momentum.”

    The fight isn’t over. Starting in July, the OHA will review all of the advisory board’s recommendations and approve or reject them. Dennis the expects the state will open a public comment period in September, where voters can speak up about these issues.

    And it seems that the entheogenic framework does have strong public support. During the most recent public comment period in April, about three in four contributors people spoke in support of the framework. Psychedelic experts and business leaders, including Bill Richards and David Bronner, also backed it.

    Dennis said advocates now have to turn their attention from the advisory board to OHA. “These are public officials and they are accountable to and work for the public,” he said. “As members of the public, we are allowed to contact them and let them know our concerns. There’s going to be another petition circulating soon to start generating momentum.”



    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.

    • Show Comments