Missoula City Council measure would decriminalize hallucinogenic plants
Two members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday introduced a resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants, which include peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Council members Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan said entheogenic plants and fungi have been shown to have health benefits and have been used by various cultures for thousands of years.
Carlino described the resolution as a grassroots effort backed by “many Missoulians.”
“We've heard comments in support of this resolution from veterans who have experience with this in treating PTSD,” Carlino said. “We've heard comments of support from therapists, doctors and dozens and dozens of community members.”
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.
Arrests for the possession of entheogens make it harder for one to gain secure employment and find housing, Carlino said.
“The U.S. is No 1 in the world for people incarcerated per capita. It started after the War on Drugs started. I think that's a really sad statistic,” Carlino said. “It's incredibly hard for someone to get their basic needs met when the criminal justice system and our lawmakers are pushing them down.”
Dr. Larry Norris, who presented on the benefits of entheogens on Wednesday, said the 10th Amendment enables state's rights and that of municipalities to make their own powers when not expressly forbidden by the Constitution.
Cities that have decriminalized entheogenic plants include Denver, Seattle, Cambridge and the state of Oregon, among others. Nearly 50 cities are currently considering decriminalization, Norris said.
He described entheogens as natural plants like cacti and mushrooms that have a serotonin base, making them non-addictive unlike dopamine-based drugs. Entheogenic plants include cacti like peyote, mushrooms containing psilocybin or other plant combinations, like DMT.
Norris said they can be used to treat depression, decrease anxiety and allow cancer patients to connect with others during difficult treatments. They also enable individuals to experience personal growth and reach “healthy normals,” he said.
“The benefits of these are psychological and physical wellness, and they support enhanced religious practices,” Norris said. “What we're trying to do here is to make sure everyone has access. We know the value of these materials are there.”
Most members of the council didn't reveal an opinion on the measure, as they plan to revisit the proposal in the coming weeks. However, the Missoula Police Department was adamant in its opposition to decriminalization.
If passed as written, the resolution would prevent Missoula police officers from arresting individuals for growing, gathering or gifting entheogens. It would also restrict any budget expenditures for “investigating, persecuting or arresting” anyone for entheogenic use.
It also calls upon the Missoula County Attorney's Offices to “cease prosecution of persons involved in use of entheogens.”
“Entheogenic plants are classified as a federal Schedule 1 Drug because of their hallucinogenic properties. They're also defined in state law as a dangerous drug,” said Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White. “This policy would impact the department's ability to enforce other drug laws and lead to unintended consequences.”
Over the past two years, White said the Missoula Police department has investigated 20 cases involving entheogenic drugs. Seventeen of those cases involved other dangerous narcotics and acts of violence while just three cases involved entheogens alone.
Of those three cases, White said two were Caucasian men and one was Native American.
“This could jeopardize the $300,000 in federal funding we receive annually to run the Missoula Drug Task Force. This provision would prevent the personnel assigned to this task force from assisting our county, state and federal partners,” White said, adding that the resolution doesn't align with state law.
City Attorney Jim Nugent said the resolution would simply stand as a policy statement and wouldn't affect other law enforcement jurisdictions operating within city limits, including the Sheriff's Department, the county attorney, University of Montana police or the Montana Highway Patrol.
“It may be giving a false sense of status and security as to what the situation is within city limits,” Nugent said. “All these other entities aren't bound or influenced in any way by City Council resolution.”
Members of the council will revisit the proposed resolution in two weeks.