The Oakland Decriminalize Nature Initiative Passes!

Eric Sienknecht, Psy.D.

It happened so fast, I almost didn’t see it coming. But I was ready. We were ready. We have been ready since witnessing and being victimized by the draconian drug policies that were enacted when Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and which led to the horrific atrocities of the War on Drugs, including the mass incarceration and deportation of people of color and of lower socioeconomic status and the systematic suppression of cognitive liberty.  

On the evening of June 4th, 2019, we witnessed a historic moment, by all accounts. The City Council of Oakland unanimously approved the Decriminalize Nature Initiative, effectively decriminalizing the “planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing” all psychedelic plant medicines, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga, within the Oakland city limits.  

While we at Polaris believe there is great value in clinical uses of psychedelic medicines, particularly in combination with psychotherapy and within the context of a safe and supportive setting, we also recognize the inconvenient truths that the cost of psychedelic psychotherapy is prohibitive for most people living in the U.S. and that most spiritual and transformational experiences occasioned by psychedelic use will continue to occur outside of clinical trials and the clinic walls. Criminalizing people for seeking spiritual or healing experiences in non-clinical settings essentially amounts to economic discrimination, punishing people who cannot afford to have these experiences in a medical or clinical setting. Furthermore, criminalizing the use of these substances impedes citizens from exercising the inalienable right of cognitive liberty, i.e. to direct, modify, or enhance their consciousness as they wish.

Therefore, what the citizens of Oakland did on Tuesday night constituted nothing less than a great step forward in the collective evolution of humanity. Under this new city law, people now have the chance to come out of the closet about their use of these medicines and begin deconstructing the corrosive stigma that has surrounded them for so long. Furthermore, we can now publicly educate people on responsible and safe uses of these medicines, from a harm reduction perspective, without fear of persecution.  And, finally, this measure will improve relationships between citizens and law enforcement which will in turn strengthen the community as a whole. 

May we all come together as a beautifully diverse Bay Area community and find the empowerment and inspiration to support each other to heal with these psychedelic medicines and plant teachers, regardless of color, gender, socioeconomic status or religious or spiritual orientation. The time is now.