Oakland, California, decriminalized the possession of psychedelics two years ago, decreasing arrests and providing an opportunity an opportunity to educate the public and policymakers about the need to bring further Drug War reforms. While some drug policy reformers worry that “psychedelic exceptionalism” can create a two-tiered movement that pits one type of drug user against others, I personally feel that anytime we can ruin fewer lives with harmful arrests and educate voters and public servants about the truth about the War on Drugs, we are all better off. As we’ve seen with numerous political and cultural victories for the cannabis community, success begets success and each positive step brings us closer to our ultimate goal. Filter looked at Oakland’s experience decriminalizing psychedelics and delved into its impact in the city and across the state, noting the benefits and potential pitfalls of such efforts, starting with the fact that arrests for psychedelics have stopped as the Oakland Police Department has honored the will of the voters:
“Still, the impact of the Oakland resolution goes beyond preventing arrests. ‘In a policy lens,” Savannah O’Neill, associate director of capacity building at the National Harm Reduction Coalition (NHRC) said, “it has created more room to talk about decriminalizing drugs, treating drugs as a public health issue and talking about the benefits of different drugs.’
“’In some instances local jurisdictions passing measures to decriminalize psychedelics could potentially add to the conversation about all-drug decriminalization,” Jeanette Zanipatin, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance said. ‘However, we do have concerns with this approach—decriminalization of psychedelics first—because it is our inherent nature to create a false narrative that there are good versus bad drugs, and that a certain segment of society is more deserving [to not be] criminalized and have access to treatment.’
“Though the psychedelic decriminalization movement has its critics—including from inside the drug policy reform and harm reduction movements—it is here to stay and growing stronger. For opponents of the drug war, the psychedelic movement shows a clear model for how to engage with local decision-makers and earn their support, and its reforms hold intrinsic value. But its successes, together with the drugs and people they leave out, demand psychedelic advocates’ vigilance against psychedelic exceptionalism.”
Potential unintended consequences of reforms, such as the unfortunate rollback of the rights of medical cannabis patients and their providers when states have moved forward with full legalization, require vigilance of advocates. As we move forward with the decriminalization of psychedelics, we certainly don’t want to increase the number of arrests and levy more harmful sentences against other nonviolent drug users. Additionally, we don’t want the “decriminalize nature” movement, which I certainly support, lead to more harmful punishments for those who choose to utilize synthetic substances like MDMA and LSD.
Taken everything into account, it’s my perspective that we shouldn’t let fear stop us from passing measures that decrease arrests and will lead to more opportunities to tell the truth about drugs and the harms of prohibition. At the same time, we can’t get complacent and stop just because a certain class of substances get decriminalized. We must completely dismantle the racist and classist Drug War and implement common sense policies that invest in people, instead of more prisons. Further, we must ensure that medical research continues and that we build upon the psilocybin therapeutic services Oregonians legalized by passing Measure 109. Oregon’s pioneering medical magic mushroom measure and the Measure 110 decriminalization law will help shape the national debate, but we can certainly learn from the successes and setbacks in other states. A sincere thanks to all advocates working to end implement progressive drug policies.