Effort to decriminalize hallucinogens in Missoula tabled in committee for lack of support
A resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants in Missoula couldn't find the votes on City Council to push it from committee this week, so its sponsors opted to table the effort in hopes they can change minds in the coming months.
Council members Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan introduced the resolution earlier this month, saying entheogenic plants have been shown to carry health benefits and have been used by various cultures for thousands of years.
While many of their peers on council didn't deny that such plants carried some benefits, the research on those benefits remains young. The resolution itself carried too many unanswered questions pertaining to law enforcement, youth and state law to approve it at this point in time.
“In theory, I don't disagree that these substances have huge potential, but the reality is that there's currently no infrastructure for medical or therapeutic use,” said council member Heidi West. “I don't have any idea how this would functionally work.”
Advocates of the Missoula resolution have described entheogens as natural plants like cacti and mushrooms that have a serotonin base, making them non-addictive. The plants include cacti like peyote, mushrooms containing psilocybin, or other plant combinations like DMT.
Supporters also cite research suggesting that such plants can be used to treat depression, decrease anxiety and calm cancer patients. Their hallucinogenic properties also enable users to experience personal growth or achieve deep religious connections.
“This is not a legalization model that cannabis or dispensers would be selling everywhere,” said supporter Dr. Larry Norris. “It's a model to make sure those engaging in practices are not criminalized for their healing or spiritual practice. One can argue that healing with entheogenic plants and fungi is an unalienable right that's protected by the First Amendment that safeguards religion and thought.”
The measure’s two sponsors said the nation’s drug policies have placed the United States at the top of the list for incarceration. Criminalizing entheogens, which are currently classified as a Schedule 1 Drug by the federal government, has disproportionately harmed vulnerable populations, they added.
For Jordan, decriminalizing the possession and use of entheogens would both send a message and reduce what she believes are unnecessary arrests and prosecutions.
“For me, it's about thinking differently in the criminal justice space. If we can reduce that burden of criminal justice involvement for victimless, nonviolent crimes for a plant that's showing exceptional promise in treating mental health, then I'd like to be part of that movement,” Jordan said.
Carlino presented the resolution as a tool to remove law enforcement from the equation and direct the city's lobbyist to work at the Legislature on decriminalizing the plants.
“This resolution isn't asking for legalization. There's no line-item budget for this. But police time is taxpayer money spent,” said Carlino. “We're asking to stop spending taxpayer money on criminalizing entheogenic plant use. We're asking our city lobbyists to support this at the state level when this comes up.”
Opponents of the measure, which includes the Missoula Police Department and local health officials, contend that the research on the plants' benefits remains too young to base policy on. They also said that the potential impacts on Missoula's youth haven't been fully considered.
Leah Fitch-Brody, a substance abuse specialist with the City-County Health Department, said marijuana use among youth in Missoula County increased 22% after it was legalized. Decriminalizing hallucinogens could have similar results, she added.
“We really need to think about that,” said Fitch-Brody. “Do we really want to follow in that vein where we didn't really think about what this would do to the youth in our community?”
But council member Sandra Vasecka, one of the few council members who supported the resolution, said alcohol and tobacco are legal for adults, and yet youth still use them illegally.
“That's up to the parents to have conversations with their children on that,” Vasecka said. “From what I've heard throughout these days of discussion is that criminalizing the use of these plants is harming more than it's not harming.”
Without the votes needed to pass the resolution, its sponsors opted to withdraw it from consideration rather than face a negative outcome. Under city rules, an item can be tabled for six months. The measure can be brought back to committee within that time and, if it's not, it essentially dies in committee.
“Hands down, our drug policy in this county is broken and our criminal justice system has systemic problems that need to be addressed,” said council member Jordan Hess. “But I'm not fully there yet” on decriminalizing entheogenic plants.”