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Psychedelic mushrooms' legal status is changing, reflecting their potential benefits. Legalization allows regulated medical use, while decriminalization reduces penalties, focusing on public health. States like Colorado and Oregon lead these changes, impacting distribution and use. This evolving landscape suggests a shift towards recognizing psilocybin's therapeutic value, highlighting the importance of staying updated on local laws.
A growing body of research is revealing the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic mushrooms. These findings are igniting a shift in the legal status of psilocybin mushrooms across the United States.
"The psychedelic renaissance is gaining momentum. Conversations surrounding the responsible use, regulation, and medical applications of psilocybin mushrooms will likely shape future legislative developments in the United States."
If you are seeking access to this life-changing earth medicine, reading this blog is a good first step. It's essential to understand the legal status of psychedelic mushrooms. This blog will introduce you to the complex legal landscape surrounding the possession, cultivation, and distribution of psilocybin mushrooms.
Let’s start by explaining the important differences between legalization and decriminalization.
Before delving into the specific legalities of psilocybin mushrooms, it's crucial to distinguish between two key terms: legalization and decriminalization.
Legalization refers to making a substance legal for use, possession, or sale under specific regulations. Full legalization of a substance means it’s entirely legal for recreational or medicinal use under some regulations (similar to those that govern alcohol or cannabis).
But it’s important to know that the legalization of psilocybin in certain states hasn’t given it the same status as alcohol or cannabis.
So far, we have seen the legalization of the “medically supervised use” of psilocybin.
For instance, in Oregon, cannabis can be purchased from a dispensary and taken home for personal use. But psilocybin can’t be purchased on-site and taken off the premises for consumption.
You don’t need a prescription or referral from a doctor. But you need to complete a preparation session with a licensed professional to consume psilocybin. Then you’d be allowed to ingest the medicine at a licensed facility and do so through a treatment model that is approved by the state.
Meanwhile, to be involved in the Oregon psilocybin industry as a manufacturer, testing lab, training program, service center, facilitator, or worker, you need a license or permit issued by the state. You can learn about the process of issuing those licenses and worker permits here.
Decriminalization involves removing criminal penalties for the possession, cultivation, or use of a substance. In decriminalized jurisdictions, individuals caught with small amounts of psilocybin mushrooms may face civil fines or mandated educational programs instead of criminal charges.
Decriminalization focuses on treating possession as a public health issue rather than a criminal offense.
In Colorado, the decriminalization of psilocybin meant removing all criminal penalties for the cultivation, possession, sharing, and personal use of psilocybin for those 21 and older. But there are some limits. For instance, you can give away psilocybin mushrooms to others, but you can’t sell them. And you’re allowed to cultivate mushrooms but only within a 12-by-12-foot area on your private property.
These loosened laws have led to the emergence of a “gray market” for psilocybin mushrooms. This has created loopholes that have allowed the distribution of magic mushrooms as a form of “gift-giving”. Let’s learn more about this gray market and the loopholes around the distribution of psilocybin mushrooms.
Decriminalization of psilocybin means that some jurisdictions have decided to treat arresting people for growing, possession, or use of psychedelics as the “lowest law enforcement priority.”
These changes made some black-market mushroom cultivators feel less vulnerable to legal repercussions for selling psilocybin. Many sell their products online and through secured messaging apps.
Meanwhile, some people use loopholes to sell psilocybin without facing legal consequences. For instance, some unlicensed psychedelic guides and facilitators might “share” mushrooms for free with their clients but charge them for guiding their experience. Unlike selling, sharing psilocybin mushrooms is permitted in some states.
In another case, a co-op in Colorado is giving away psilocybin for free while charging people for a chat about the intoxicating effects of psilocybin mushrooms. The co-op is finding its way around the current laws by framing its act as “selling a service” — giving advice and informational pamphlets — and not the psilocybin itself. The current criminal law is vague, which can lead to self-interpretations and working around the system.
After the decriminalization of cannabis in Colorado, we saw similar trends. Some claimed to provide “free cannabis” for monetary “donations” as a way to work around the regulations. But, the state-wide retail legalization of cannabis led to a crackdown on these cannabis operations.
In D.C., the decriminalization of cannabis and its legalized possession led to the growth of I-75 shops. These shops “gift” marijuana if a customer buys a product, such as a piece of clothing. They use the loopholes in the law to distribute cannabis without officially selling it.
Similarly, Initiative 81 in Washington, D.C. was passed in November 2020. Because of this initiative, arresting people for growing, distributing, and possessing psilocybin mushrooms — and other entheogenic plants —became the lowest priority of law enforcement.
Initiative 81 led to the growth of “shroom gifting communities” and the operation of I-81 stores. When you arrive at one of these stores, you can ask for their “gift menu.” The menu shows the available shrooms along with merchandise. To receive a shroom as a gift, you need to purchase the specified merchandise. Make sure not to ask if the store sells shrooms because you will be asked to leave.
In the case of cannabis, legalization brought about more clear criminal definitions. This included more crackdowns on gift-giving operations. Some states may move in the same direction with the retail legalization of psilocybin (for medicinal or recreational use). So, we can expect the same for psilocybin’s gray market.
As of December 2023, psilocybin mushrooms are classified as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) at the federal level. This classification means that psilocybin is considered to have
Federal law prohibits the possession, cultivation, and sale of psilocybin mushrooms for any purpose.
But there are some promising developments. The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to add two provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). These provisions support research into the therapeutic application of some psychedelics for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in active military personnel.
The Breakthrough Therapies ACT is also adding amendments to the Controlled Substance Act. The goal is to lower barriers to research and the medicinal use of psychedelics such as psilocybin.
There seems to be growing bipartisan support for advancing and funding psychedelic research through the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Therapies Caucus (PATH).
At the state level, legal consequences for psilocybin-related activities vary significantly. Most states strictly adhere to federal law, imposing severe penalties for possession, cultivation, and distribution.
In contrast, others have taken steps toward decriminalization or even legalization for medical purposes.
The legal landscape surrounding psilocybin mushrooms is in a state of flux. Several states are exploring alternative approaches to their regulation.
Here are all the notable recent legislative developments:
In 2021, California introduced Senate Bill 519. The goal of the bill was to decriminalize the possession, use, and sharing of multiple psychedelic substances, including psilocybin. But Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed the measure. He argued that the state must set up thorough treatment guidelines before he is willing to sign.
But the cities of Oakland, Santa Cruz, Arcata, Berkeley, and San Francisco have unanimously passed decriminalization resolutions. They have made investigating the personal use and possession of certain psychedelics — including psilocybin mushrooms — the lowest law enforcement priority.
On November 8, 2022, Colorado became the second state — after Oregon — to legalize access to “natural medicines” and state-sanctioned “healing centers.” Colorado voters passed Proposition 122, which allows individuals 21 years and older to access psychedelic mushrooms.
This proposition also decriminalizes five natural psychedelics. This includes two substances found in psychedelic mushrooms — psilocybin and psilocin.
House Bill 6734 was passed on May 11, 2023. This act decriminalizes the possession of a small amount of psilocybin (less than half an ounce). This means that a person possessing less than ½ ounce of psilocybin would have to pay a $150 fine for a first offense and a $200-500 fine for subsequent offenses.
D.C. residents approved Initiative Measure No. 81 on November 3, 2020. According to this Initiative, the “police shall treat the non-commercial cultivation, distribution, possession, and use of entheogenic plants and fungi as among the lowest law enforcement priorities.”
The ballot initiative also asked the D.C. Attorney General and U.S. Attorney for D.C. to stop the prosecution of residents for participating in the activities mentioned above.
A campaign is gathering signatures to force lawmakers to consider a psychedelic legalization initiative titled “The Natural Psychedelic Substances Act.” If successful, the act would allow people 21 and older to legally possess, grow, and share certain amounts of psychedelics. It would also reduce penalties to less than a $100 civil fine.
Across Massachusetts, the cities of Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, Easthampton, Salem, and Provincetown have passed resolutions for decriminalization. This means that they no longer use resources for the arrest and investigation of people growing and sharing psilocybin mushrooms. The resolutions instruct police officers to deprioritize cases concerning psilocybin.
Legislation has been introduced to decriminalize and legalize “natural plants and mushrooms” statewide. The initiative might appear on the ballot on November 5, 2024.
Meanwhile, in the cities of Ann Arbor (and Washtenaw County), Detroit, Hazel Park, and Ferndale, the personal use and possession of entheogenic plants has been decriminalized. The investigation and arrest of people for these substances have become the lowest priority of law enforcement.
Senate Bill S3256 was passed on February 4, 2021, to amend New Jersey state law. This bill reduces the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of psilocybin. Previously, this was considered a third-degree crime. Now the sentence is reduced to 6 months imprisonment, a fine up to $1000, or both.
Since 2005, “growing mushrooms” in New Mexico is not considered “manufacturing” a controlled substance. Yet, packaging and labeling mushrooms in a container is considered manufacturing. And the intention to manufacture and distribute mushrooms constitutes a felony. Still, people debate these laws.
Oregon was the first state to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. Measure 109 was passed in November 2020. It allowed the regulated medical use of psilocybin in supervised therapeutic settings. At the same time, voters passed Measure 110, which reduced the penalty for the possession of any controlled substances to a max fine of $100. This groundbreaking legislation marked a departure from traditional drug policies, emphasizing the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.
Psilocybin Services Program (Measure 109) allowed local jurisdictions to opt out of providing psilocybin services within their borders. You can find the map of Oregon psilocybin services here.
Senate Bill 5476 went into effect on July 25, 2021, to reduce the penalty for possession of a controlled substance from a felony to a misdemeanor.
This bill also encourages law enforcement to refer first and second-time possession offenders to services where they can be evaluated. If necessary, they can receive treatments for drug abuse. This bill is in effect for two years to give lawmakers time to review the outcome of the new policies.
Seattle City Council passed Resolution 32021 on October 4, 2021, to make the “investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen related activities…. lowest law enforcement priorities.”
Similar decriminalization efforts were successful in the city of Port Townsend when the City Council passed Resolution No. 21-088. This bill doesn’t allow any city funds and resources to be used to enforce criminal penalties for planting, gathering, cultivating, possessing, transporting, or using entheogens by adults above the age of 18.
You can find a more detailed map of state-by-state psychedelic drug policy reforms here.
The legal landscape for psilocybin mushrooms in the United States is dynamic. These reforms show that attitudes towards psychedelics are changing. It's clear that their potential therapeutic benefits are being acknowledged.
Federal law currently classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I substance. Recent legislative developments at the state and local levels show a gradual shift towards decriminalization and limited legalization for therapeutic use.
It’s important to stay informed about the specific laws in your jurisdiction and recognize that the psychedelic mushrooms' legal status may continue to evolve.
The psychedelic renaissance is gaining momentum. Conversations surrounding the responsible use, regulation, and medical applications of psilocybin mushrooms will likely shape future legislative developments in the United States.
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