San Francisco Launches Bid to Decriminalize Psychedelics

July 27, 2022

City lawmakers in San Francisco have introduced a resolution to decriminalize naturally occurring psychedelics, or “entheogens.” The measure would remove criminal penalties for possession of drugs like psilocybin or mescaline—both to reduce criminalization in itself, and to make it easier for people to use these drugs for therapeutic purposes. If successful, San Francisco would join a growing list of cities to adopt similar measures, including Denver, Oakland, Seattle, Detroit and Washington, DC.

Supervisors Dean Preston (District 5) and cosponsor Supervisor Hillary Ronen (District 9) introduced the resolution on July 26. The resolution, which you can view below, resolves that “City resources not be used for any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution” related to use of “Entheogenic Plants listed on the Federally Controlled Substances Schedule 1 list.” That list includes psilocybin, DMT, mescaline and ibogaine. The resolution also calls on the state of California and the federal government to decriminalize entheogens.

“We believe decriminalization offers transparency for safe, qualified and ethical practitioners for the community,” Dr. Jennifer Christian, a clinical psychologist with Decriminalize Nature San Francisco, a group advocating for the resolution, told Filter. “And supporting public safety and risk reduction by promoting safe access, safe spaces and above ground education and training.” 

“We know the set and setting matters, so this threat of persecution and illegality is really overbearing.”

With the resolution introduced, there’s unlikely to be any more immediate action, as lawmakers are about to go on recess until September 1. In the meantime, advocates plan to continue lobbying elected officials and building support among other local activists. “We’ve spoken and reached out to all of the city supervisors; we’ve met with about half or so,” Marjorie Sturm, another Decriminalize Nature San Francisco advocate, told Filter 

Amid the overdose crisis, “we’re not in a position to turn away old and new healing modalities that are effective,” Sturm added. “We know the set and setting matters, so this threat of persecution and illegality is really overbearing.”

Sturm was previously a case worker in the city’s Tenderloin district. As Filter has reported, the Tenderloin is suffering a police crackdown on drug use and unhoused residents. Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in the area, and San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who recently replaced the ousted Chesa Boudin, is following suit by ramping up the city’s drug war.

Sturm accepts that decriminalizing psychedelics alone won’t solve these issues. “This isn’t a magic bullet,” she said, “this isn’t treatment that will be effective for everyone, this isn’t going to house people.” And while she believes psychedelics can help many people with substance use disorder—some studies have suggested as much—she acknowledged that people who are housed or working will be most likely to benefit. 

San Francisco has long been linked to psychedelic culture and policy. It features prominently in the books of the Beat poets—most famously Jack Kerouac—who helped popularize the use of psychedelic drugs. In the 1960s, the city and its Haight-Ashbury community served as a cradle of the counterculture movement, producing some of the most famous psychedelic-inspired artists of that era, like the Grateful Dead, Santana, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane.

Then in the 1990s, local activists like Dennis Peron helped galvanize a movement to secure marijuana as a legal medicine for HIV/AIDS patients. Their work culminated in the successful 1996 referendum to legalize medical marijuana in California—the harbinger of today’s national cannabis movement.

If San Francisco does decriminalize, it will notch a highly symbolic victory for this growing movement.

Today, despite the renewed drug war against its most vulnerable residents, San Francisco is home to prominent psychedelic research and academic centers, including the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division, the Translational Psychedelic Research Program, and the California Institute of Integrative Studies. So if San Francisco does decriminalizes psychedelics, it will notch a highly symbolic victory for this growing movement. (And the speaker of the House will represent a decriminalized city.)

While decriminalization supporters in San Francisco and beyond highlight the healing potential of these substances, they’re clear that decriminalization will not regulate sales.

Decriminalize Nature San Francisco is deliberately forgoing an approach like that seen in Oregon—which did legalize psilocybin therapy centers, and is creating a complex system of licenses, testing, training, and certifications to treat patients—and earning some criticisms along the way. Instead, San Francisco would likely follow the lead of Oakland—which, three years after passing decriminalization, is now working to guarantee safety for communal and ceremonial use of entheogens through a “grow, gift, gather” model.

California advocates are also looking to the state legislature, where an even bigger reform is under consideration. After months of inaction, the California Assembly Appropriations committee is finally hearing Senate Bill 519. Sponsored by Senator Scott Wiener, this would decriminalize possession of small amounts of entheogenic drugs statewide. It goes further by allowing “facilitated or supported use,” including group use, for people over 21. Healers would be able to charge a fee for their supportive services, but not for the drug itself.


San Francisco’s resolution:

Decrim reso__7_25_2022



Correction, July 27: The date of the introduction of the resolution has been corrected in this article.

Photograph by Conall via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0

Alexander Lekhtman

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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