Cannabis Really is a Gateway Drug, at Least When it Comes to Legalization.

legalize cannabis

Oregon continues to be one of the states to lead the charge on the legalization front. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will host three public listening sessions in regards to the continued progress of making psilocybin legal in the state. The sessions will give the public a chance to ask questions, comment, and share concerns or opinions in reference to three separate topics: licensing, facilitator conduct, and client/product safety. 

One of the first states to legalize cannabis in both medical and recreational use, Oregon was also the first to decriminalize psilocybin, and then legalize them for therapeutic purposes. With Measure Ballot 109 (M109) having passed in 2020, the two-year development period required by the ballot measure, Oregon is less than half-a-year away from becoming the first state with fully legalized psilocybin, able to be sold in supervised, licensed facilities. 

The Criminalization of Nature

While the use of more plant-based therapeutics such as cannabis or psilocybin didn’t seem to hit mainstream popularity in the US until the late 50s, early 60s, the use of these plants have been historically documented around the world for thousands of years.  Fibers found in Taiwan indicate that they began utilizing hemp for their clothing over 8000 years ago. In certain Chinese villages, hemp was considered one of the five grains, and was used as a major food crop 4000 years ago. Traces of cannabis residue found in the mountain ranges of Central Asia suggest cannabis was used in burial rituals 2500 years ago. Thousands of years before it was considered a Schedule 1 substance, it was considered a life-sustaining plant for ancient peoples

It was the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung who is attributed for the first documented use of cannabis as a therapeutic, with his teachings being passed down through the Shen Nung Pen t’sao Ching, a book of herbal remedies written in the second century. Though cannabis seems to have first been found in Asia, once it spread, it spread. From Babylon, to Western Europe, to the Americas, the plant began to introduce itself to the globe, finding a foothold in many cultures over the centuries. 

Similar to cannabis, psilocybin use as a therapeutic has been found around the world for thousands of years. The first documented use dates as far back as 10000 BCE, where dxcfcave murals dedicated to the use of the “magic mushroom were found in Northern Australia. Similar rock paintings found in Spain date back to 4000 BCE. Yet their influence has been found even more heavily in the Central Americas, where for many civilizations, mushrooms were likened to the “flesh of the Gods” and were used for both spiritual and medicinal purposes. 

From burial practices, to divination, to healing ceremonies and reaching enlightenment. The use of both cannabis and psilocybin are inextricably linked as two natural plants who have been healing to a variety of people around the world. So why were they criminalized? 

There are all kinds of reasons that could be pointed to. In a historical context, the spread of Catholicism by means of colonization often led to the criminalization of any of the rituals or practices that would seem to undermine the spread of the secular religion. In more modern times, the use of cannabis and psilocybin were connected to the long haired, counter-culture hippies who protested Vietnam, which allowed for anti-cannabis sentiment to be tied to patriotism.

Both cannabis and psilocybin were placed as a Schedule 1 drug in 1970. 

From Restricted to Recreational

With Oregon’s two year development stage coming to an end, they will become the litmus test for the legalization of psilocybin on a statewide scale, and if the trend of legalization follows in the same way it did with cannabis, it’s not a far stretch to guess that California could soon follow. Psilocybin is already decriminalized in Oakland and Santa Cruz, and the California Psilocybin Initiative is continuing its efforts to get a full-scale legalization vote on the next ballot. 

Looking to cannabis legalization as the veritable playbook, psilocybin will still have a long road ahead of it before it makes the same type of progress. As of 2022, Oregon is the only state that will have full legalization. There are 8 cities that currently have psilocybin listed as a decriminalized substance: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Washington, D.C; Denver, Colorado; Cambridge, North Hampton and Sommerville, Massachusetts; as well as the aforementioned cities in California. 

[image source: Photo by Ringo Hoffmann on Unsplash]

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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