Seattle and Detroit Move Toward Decriminalizing Psychedelics

Seattle and Detroit approved this fall measures to protect consumers of “entheogenic” plants and fungi. These policies form part of a larger trend, which began with the Denver ballot initiative in 2019. It made adult possession of marijuana the lowest priority city law enforcement and prohibited the use of public funds to prosecute such cases.

The Seattle City Council approved a resolution in October that calls for police to stop using psychedelic drugs. However, its scope is much wider than the Denver initiative. The resolution covers both noncommercial “cultivation”, and “sharing” of plants and fungal matter.

While the resolution of Seattle supports “full criminalization” for “entheogen related activities”, it doesn’t affect penalties in state courts for possessing, producing, or distributing psychedelics. Under Washington law, psychedelics such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine are still classified as Schedule I drugs, meaning they are banned for all purposes. Low-level possession is a gross misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A bill introduced in February 2021 would eliminate penalties for possessing “personal use amounts” of controlled substances, including psychedelics.

Detroit voters approved a ballot initiative in November that made personal possession and therapeutic use of natural psychedelics for adults the city’s highest law enforcement priority. While the initiative purported to “decriminalize” those drugs “to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law,” low-level possession remains a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

In September 2021, a Michigan law would make possession and use of certain entheogenic substances illegal. It also allows for their noncommercial production and delivery. It covers any plants or fungi with dimethyltryptamines.

The year before Seattle and Detroit backed psychedelic tolerance, the city councils of Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oakland, California; and Santa Cruz, California, enacted similar measures. Also in 2020, Washington, D.C., voters approved quasi-decriminalization of entheogenic plants and fungi by a 50-point margin.

Oregon voters went further in November 2020 by passing a ballot initiative aimed at establishing state-licensed “psilocybin service centers” where adults can legally consume the drug under the supervision of a “facilitator” after completing a “preparation session.” Another Oregon ballot initiative approved in the same election decriminalized low-level possession of all drugs, including psilocybin and other psychedelics.