This week, Oakland, California became the second city in the United States to decriminalize magic mushrooms.
Magic mushrooms are unlike other mushrooms. They have hallucinogenic properties, meaning people who eat them see things that may not be real.
The Oakland City Council acted on Tuesday after several people spoke to the group’s members. They said magic mushrooms helped them fight depression, drug dependency and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
All city council members voted to decriminalize the adult use and possession of magic mushrooms as well as other psychoactive plants and fungi. In May, Denver, Colorado voters approved a similar measure for people 21 years of age and older.
Many speakers spoke up in support of the move and described ayahuasca and peyote, both hallucinogens, as traditional plant-based medicines.
In South America, indigenous people have been using ayahuasca for centuries; peyote is more common among native North Americans.
Use of the plants “saved my life,” said one man who described himself as a former drug user. “I don’t know how to describe it other than miraculous.”
Other speakers described the hallucinogens as providing spiritual healing.
The vote in Oakland makes the investigation and arrest of adults who grow, possess, use or distribute such plants and fungi low urgency for police. Now, no city money can be used to enforce laws criminalizing the substances. In addition, the district attorney’s office will stop legal action against people who have been arrested for use or possession.
City council member Noel Gallo proposed the resolution. He had said decriminalizing such plants would help Oakland police work on more serious crimes.
Council member Loren Taylor added amendments that the substances “are not for everyone.” He suggested that people with PTSD or major depression seek professional help before using them. The amendments also suggest that people seek expert guidance and have a trusted friend present during use.
Reaction to the vote
Carlos Plazola heads Decriminalize Nature Oakland, a non-profit group. He said before the council meeting that hallucinogenic plants and fungi are a huge help in aiding healing. He said a lot of doctors and mental health experts unofficially suggest use of these substances.
Magic mushrooms remain illegal under both federal and state laws. They are considered Schedule 1 under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which bans drugs which may cause drug abuse and may have no medical value.
Some locals had raised concerns about unsafe use of the substances, especially in schools.
To deal with such concerns, Gallo said, lawmakers would have to establish rules and regulations about the use of such substances. That means being clear about which substances can be used, how to use them and what the related risks are.
Hallucinogenic plants have been used for centuries in religious and cultural settings.
Gallo remembers his grandmother treating his family members with such plants for a number of health issues.
“Growing up in the Mexican community, this was our cure,” Gallo said. “We didn’t have a way to pay for any drugs. These are plants we have known for thousands of years in our community and that we continue to use.”
I’m Alice Bryant.
Samantha Maldonado reported this story for The Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
mushroom – n. a fungus that is shaped like an umbrella
hallucinogenic – adj. describing a substance (such as a drug) that causes people to see or sense things that are not real
fungi – n. any one of a group of living things that often look like plants but live on dead or decaying things (singular: fungus)
indigenous – adj. produced, living, or existing naturally in an area or environment
miraculous – adj. very wonderful or amazing like a miracle
district attorney – n. a public official who acts as prosecutor for the state or federal government in court in a particular district