An unlicensed psilocybin mushroom shop in Portland, Oregon, was raided by local police on December 8. Operating for just six weeks, it had attracted long lines and attention—positive and negative—from local media and elected officials. The raid starkly illustrates the limits of current policies—even in a state that made history by decriminalizing drug possession and legalizing psilocybin for therapeutic use.
Shroom House opened on October 24 on West Burnside Street. It announced itself on social media and displayed numerous signs on-site, plus a nearby billboard. Its logo features a Tolkienesque mushroom house with a tiny snail.
At the beginning of December, local outlet Willamette Week sent a reporter to visit the store and make a purchase. Mushrooms sold in a range of small quantities were available. Customers were reportedly required to provide two types of ID, and to apply to join the “Shroom House Society.”
“It’s ludicrous. This is entirely a law enforcement issue.”
State Senator Elizabeth Steiner (D) blasted the store for breaking federal and state laws. “This is like someone opening a cocaine store on Burnside,” she told Willamette Week. “It’s ludicrous,” she added. “This is entirely a law enforcement issue.”
In 2020 Steiner endorsed Oregon’s Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin for therapeutic use, calling it “an important step forward”.
During the December 8 raid, police seized drugs and cash and arrested four people, who face charges including money laundering, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and felony delivery of psilocybin.
Threats to Gray-Market Operators
Shroom House is one of many businesses in this space that have been pushing legal boundaries. On November 12, for example, police in Toronto shut down a psilocybin store called Shroomyz, making two arrests. In some places, the “gray market” situation resembles that seen with cannabis in New York, where unlicensed “sticker stores,” operating before adult-use dispensaries have opened under the state’s legalization plan, have attracted attention and enforcement threats.
San Francisco is one such place. The activist group Decriminalize Nature San Francisco told Filter that according to their limited information, a handful of unlicensed entities selling psilocybin in the city have been shut down by police, with some arrests made. The group successfully lobbied the city council to decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelics earlier this year.
“Since the passage of the resolution, a number of storefronts have started selling entheogenic mushrooms and/or psychedelics.”
“Recent events in San Francisco highlight the urgent need for education and protections around safe and equitable access to entheogenic medicines and psychedelics,” the group said in a statement shared with Filter. “Since the passage of the resolution, a number of storefronts have started selling entheogenic mushrooms and/or psychedelics.”
“We believe in a community access ‘grow-gather-gift model’, and as such, the resolution presently exclude sales,” they continued. “SF residents should realize that the de-prioritization of arrests by the San Francisco Police Department for personal possession will not protect them from retail sales or purchase.”
Where Psilocybin Stands in Oregon
Oregon made history in 2020 as the first state to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use, when voters approved Measure 109. The measure authorized a highly regulated system of psilocybin “healing centers,” staffed by trained “facilitators.” Clients will be able visit the centers for any reason, without needing a specific medical diagnosis, in order to receive psilocybin under close supervision in a therapeutic setting. State officials are preparing to launch the first healing centers in 2023.
But clients must pay for these services out-of-pocket, with costs set to reach several thousand dollars. State officials have admitted the program will pose barriers for lower-income clients, while advocates have fought to make it more accessible.
“I think it shows the public is ready and excited for psilocybin.”
No retail mushroom stores are permitted under the law. But according to one local advocate, Shroom House has at least demonstrated that such a business can exist without hastening the end of civilization.
“I think it shows the public is ready and excited for psilocybin,” Evan Segura, a community organizer with the Portland Psychedelic Society, told Filter. “We haven’t seen any people admitted to hospitals or arrested; it shows hundreds or thousands of people can purchase psilocybin, go do it themselves and not negatively affect the rest of society.”
Shroom House “nailed accessibility,” he added. “The prices compared to the [iilicit] market weren’t terrible. When you compare a $50 quarter of mushrooms to a $3,000 mushroom trip to Measure 109, it’s pretty obvious why people would prefer [it].”
Other advocates are less positive about the phenomenon Shroom House represents. “The fact people moved in and were willing to capitalize on psychedelics as an industry before any legislation doesn’t bode well for the movement in general,” Alex Wilson of Decriminalize Nature Portland told Filter. “Decriminalization is inherently not about creating legalized sale, it’s about removing police enforcement against individuals for growing, eating and sharing their crop with other people.”
The Limits of Decriminalization
Psilocybin possession in small quantities is decriminalized under Oregon state law. That’s because in 2020 voters also approved Measure 110, which decriminalized low-level possession of all controlled substances.
As Filter has reported, Measure 110 has been effective in preventing thousands of drug arrests. And a funding mechanism in the law is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to harm reduction, treatment and other services.
Oregon advocates have lobbied for stronger protections for psychedelics users, following the model of Oakland, San Francisco and other cities.
But there are some important limits to understand. “Oregon’s decrim law is pretty severely limited with respect to psilocybin,” Jon Dennis, an attorney and host of the podcast Eyes on Oregon, told Filter. “It doesn’t allow anyone to grow, forage, sell or give mushrooms … If you have under 12 grams, you get cited for a ‘class E violation.’ It’s a $100 fine that you can have waived if you call a drug treatment screening hotline.”
Advocates like Decriminalize Nature Portland have lobbied for stronger protections for psychedelics users, following the model of Oakland, San Francisco and numerous other cities. This would ensure that in addition to personal possession, the law would also protect cultivation, gifting and group use of psilocybin.
But such a resolution has stalled in Portland, Wilson said, because city council members have shown no interest.
“If people want to see this happen,” he said, “they need to reach out to their local elected officials and explain to them how entheogens have impacted their life and why they believe they must be decriminalized once and for all to ensure equitable access to all people.”
Photograph via United States Drug Enforcement Administration