West Coast Psychedelic Update

It’s incredible to see all the amazing progress we’re making in psychedelic policy on the West Coast—below are updates on major efforts we’ve been helping organize.

In California, we’re marching towards decriminalizing psychedelics with Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 519. The policy includes both plant medicines and synthetics, sans peyote per the National Council of the Native American Church. Like Senator Wiener, we understand that freeing these healing medicines is a stepping stone to broader all-drug decriminalization in favor of a treatment-not-jail approach to addiction in California.

Dr. Bronner’s has been funding this lobbying effort via New Approach, which has been point coordinating on the drafting and lobbying strategy with Senator Wiener’s office, with MAPS policy leads involved as well. New Approach aces include Executive Director Graham Boyd, former head of the ACLU’s Drug War project, and Ben Unger, General Counsel to both measures 109 and DC Decriminalize Nature; Dan Seeman has been our ace lead lobbyist. The co-sponsors and champions of this effort are Heroic Hearts Project and VETS, who like no other orgs can engage with and convince skeptical Republicans and conservative Democrats to support psychedelic medicines and therapies. The psychedelic movement owes a huge debt of gratitude to veterans generally and these orgs in particular for their ability to drive policy that will help all of us, including BIPOC, LBGTQIA and other highly marginalized and traumatized populations. Other key coalition partners are the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI, who’s board is the NAC National Council), Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP, which mobilizes former law enforcement members to testify), and Sacred Garden. We also sponsored Nara Dhalbacka of the Milo group as someone we believed could work with Decriminalize Nature (DN) as well as other grassroots groups in the state; DN had passed on retaining her due I thought to lack of resources. Even though Decriminalize Nature has been in a dysfunctional relationship with IPCI over peyote, we opened our coalition to the lobbyist they did end up retaining in February, Anthony Molina, after the peyote issue was sorted in California. Despite constant flak from DN’s leadership against myself and IPCI, Anthony has been a pro part of our team.

Here’s the initial letter I sent to Senator Wiener’s office, coordinating closely with Sacred Garden leader Bob Otis, former DNO board chair when the Oakland resolution passed, and key proponent of the DN ethos along with current leadership (three of the original five board members when the resolution passed have resigned). I’ve appreciated Bob’s high-level vibration and leadership role as well in the Sacred Plant Alliance of churches, an organization incubated by the Chacruna Institute. Dr. Bronner’s has been supporting SPA’s crucial work laying the groundwork for psychedelic churches to flourish under federal law in all 50 states. Stay tuned as this is going to be a gamechanger.

Importantly I want to highlight that I relayed in that letter that we were waiting for the National Council of the NAC to advise their position on peyote, and that we had asked whether it was supportive of medicine conservation and indigenous sovereignty to greenlight decriminalization of cultivation at the state level for non-native people. The answer was no, the NAC are at a critical juncture in their national 50 state strategy to conserve peyote under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and don’t want to complicate that effort. They do not need or want to decriminalize at the state or city level, which would send a signal that it’s OK for non-natives  to use peyote and spike demand for their slow growing medicine that is in a state of collapse in the wild. They sent a letter of thanks to Senator Wiener, and have posted a letter to the movement and presented a webinar where they answered questions explaining their position and strategy. Native American Deb Haaland is now U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and with a friendly Biden administration, the hope is that Native Americans will be able to lead their multi-pronged conservation strategy (including land-use, community engagement, nurseries and repopulation) successfully at the national level.

As allies it’s important to listen to the answers from indigenous leadership to the questions we ask, and support the indigenous-led leadership in this country. The leadership at DN has instead chosen a combative adversarial approach, posturing that they are engaged on peyote conservation with no buy-in from relevant stakeholders or plans to mobilize the resources that it will take. They are disrespecting the institutions that exist to represent indigenous people that use peyote as a sacrament, in both the U.S. and Mexico, and rather than dialog and listen in respectful alliance to indigenous leadership, they are deflecting with a slander campaign against myself, River Styx, IPCI and New Approach.

To clarify the falsehoods they are spreading (e.g. “Our concern is that this is all a front to create a vertically integrated profit making machine to create scarcity in Peyote, drive the price up, and sell to NACs in the US and to pharmaceutical companies”),neither Dr. Bronner’s or River Styx, or any associated parties, have made any (or intend to make any) investment in in the for-profit psychedelic company Journey Colab. River Styx was advising them on how to build reciprocity into their model to the benefit of indigenous communities, if and when they take synthetic mescaline through FDA approval process, and if and when there was a consent process with those communities. We hope that they follow through but that’s the extent of the relationship. As far as Dr. Bronner’s and River Styx trying to monopolize the peyote supply to gouge NAC chapters, again this is false and flat-out slander. Dr. Bronner’s and River Styx financially support IPCI as an independent c3 charitable conservation organization in their efforts to work with NAC chapters to conserve peyote. River Styx and Bronner’s have also helped the Comanche, via the Sia project, purchase land that they are cultivating peyote on, and through the Indigenous Conservation Medicine Fund, will be working hard to raise another $5 million for indigenous-led peyote conservation efforts, where many more tribes and NAC chapters can engage in biocultural conservation on their own terms, utilizing traditional knowledge, community engagement, restoration science and technology. This will coincide with expected major movement at the national level for removing regulatory barriers for NAC chapters to engage on this, combined with their many years of planning, design and prayer.

It’s a dream for any movement or effort to be on the cusp of national success that includes all fifty states. This isn’t the case yet for the cannabis movement, which has had to rely on a state-by-state effort. NAC by contrast has the leverage and positioning they need at the national level to accomplish their comprehensive conservation strategy.

DN leadership have also been attacking New Approach and its ED Graham Boyd, who also serves as Dr. Bronner’s Political Director. New Approach is the lead coordinating organization helping make Decrim happen in California, with DN playing a support role, though their social media feed would have you believe they’re key drivers. We appreciate Anthony’s help and we’re all mobilizing grassroots letters and calls to elected officials, but we’d be nowhere without key strategic lobbying and guidance of the New Approach team, and Heroic Hearts Project and VETS as primary champions of the effort and their network of veterans testifying at key committee hearings and meeting with key senators. New Approach and MAPS have also been lining up crucial expert testimony from physicians. I haven’t made a big deal of my role, but I’ve helped coordinate the major orgs at the table, given key input on drafting, and hosted the weekly strategy calls.

One of the key things we’ve done in California is develop language around “social sharing” of psychedelics and plant medicines for group healing and ceremonies, so that people can cultivate, source, and have sufficient quantities of medicines in one place for ceremonial healing. This is crucial for veterans healing with ayahuasca, which is what Heroic Hearts Project sponsors. Initially we had proposed creating a separate advisory board that would advise on ceremonial use and sustainable sourcing of plant medicines; however Senator Wiener’s office felt this would be problematic and asked what policy in particular we were driving at, and we worked out this language to enable group sharing in ceremony. This strategic language is also important as it can be incorporated into future treatment-not-jail broad-based drug decrim measures, as passed in Oregon.

In Oregon, the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance aims to incorporate this “social sharing” language into Oregon’s policy as well, working first in Portland, building off Measures 109 and 110 that legalized psilocybin therapy and decriminalized personal amounts of all drugs. PMHA’s mission is to decriminalize fungi and plant medicines in quantities adequate for home growing, group healing, and ceremonial and religious purposes. Working initially in Portland, in partnership with indigenous stakeholders and others, they aim to enact this policy while promoting sustainable sourcing and honoring, in mutual reciprocity of care, the human, plant and animal ecologies where the medicines grow. PMHA is working to complete the drug policy picture taking form in Oregon, providing a model for the rest of the country to follow.

Relevant coalitions are taking a close look at Washington and Colorado for broad-based all-drug Decrim, and if either are a go we will make sure that this “social sharing” language for entheogens is included, to enable healing in ceremony with plant medicines in those states as well.

We are also setting the groundwork in California for a therapeutic program like 109 in Oregon. A well-structured program is key for the majority of the population who will not avail themselves of psychedelic healing in a loose Decrim context. They need to trust in the quality of the facilitation and the quality and strength of the medicine. The Healing Advocacy Fundin Oregon, composed of key 109 campaign and New Approach staff, lobbied to make sure Equity and Access are built into the core of the program and are investigating how to add psilocybin therapy to state and private insurance pools for widespread access.

I, along with Ben Unger of New Approach, have also been helping advise Decrim Nature Seattle, primarily helping shortlist potential lobbyists who can help their effort there. Former and current leadership chose their current lobbyist who we funded through New Approach, and they’ve been making great progress. However Ben and I chose to personally exit rather than be embroiled in the leadership drama and transition there. We also kept our distance when DN national leadership tried to set up a new group in Seattle and pissed off the local Seattle DN effort to the point they formally severed ties. As I’ve made clear in prior posts, we’re down to help local DN efforts who would like our help, and are not asking them to change their names or sever ties to the national org. Our focus is California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado, and we want to make sure we see the complete drug policy reform picture that I outlined in my MAPS bulletin article last year.

DN leadership have also gone after New Approach for “harming BIPOC populations,” when in fact their crucial work over the past decade to end cannabis prohibition in multiple states has helped hundreds of thousands of BIPOC lives and families that would otherwise have been devastated. The coalition of philanthropists that New Approach has coordinated is almost entirely not engaged in the cannabis industry. Our focus has been to end the arrest and devastation of BIPOC families and communities through arrest and incarceration involving cannabis. We historically were focused on putting out the fire that was burning down the house, andd weren’t focused enough on what the cannabis industry on the other side would look like. Unfortunately, industry interests that made up a significant portion of funding primarily shaped policies that have not benefitted BIPOC populations as much as they should have. I recently authored a blogtogether with Les Szabo, Dr. Bronner’s Director of Constructive Capital, that touches on this.

We’re all learning as we go and New York is showing the way to properly legalize cannabis and the MORE Act at the federal level is in the right vibration as well (shout out to our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance for their awesome work on both). While much more work remains to be done, and it’s far from perfect, cannabis legalization has been one of the most effective criminal justice reforms in modern American history. According to FBI statistics, there were 853,839 cannabis-related arrests in the United States in 2010. By 2019 that number dropped to 545,602—a 36% reduction. As noted, states’ legalization laws are increasingly focused on repairing harms and addressing the needs of BIPOC communities. In addition to New York, states like Illinois are investing tens of millions of dollars annually into economic development and social programs in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization. Some states are automatically expunging and sealing hundreds of thousands of records for past cannabis offenses, removing barriers to employment, housing, and education. And while challenges remain, state regulators and local officials in legalization states are retroactively developing more social equity programs to support cannabis businesses operated by non-white owners, so that BIPOC communities can benefit much more from the emerging legal cannabis industry. Dr. Bronner’s supports BIPOC-focused cannabis entrepreneur projects like Hood Incubator and CHEM Allyance, and I’ve launched the Brother David’s nonprofit to help small cannabis craft farmers distinguish themselves in the market against huge corporate indoor grows that have been dominating the industry.

There’s always been tension between perfect policy and what’s politically viable in a given election cycle… do we wait another two to four years and how many thousands more families are shredded waiting for better policy, or do we end the horror of prohibition now in a given state where it’s possible to do so?  And then apply the lessons we learn to future battles as we have leverage, which isn’t always the case. It’s encouraging that with psychedelics so far we’ve been shaping pretty ideal policies informed by our experience with cannabis.

Since New Approach was the largest funder for 109 and we don’t have industry interests whipsawing policy, we were able to help Tom and Sheri Eckert craft policy that explicitly addresses the problems with past cannabis measures. In particular, we limited the number of licenses any one entity can have, both for grow and treatment centers, and there’s no marketing and branding of medicine. So there won’t be the corporate takeover like has happened in cannabis, and smaller growers can thrive. Dr. Bronner’s is also engaged in sponsorship programs for training BIPOC therapists and patients to access treatment as well.  And we’ve helped launch the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance to expand on the incredible work of measure 110, that will enable home cultivation and ceremonial quantities of plant medicines at the state level.

It’s easy for newcomers to criticize who weren’t on the ground fighting the horror of the drug war for most of their adult lives. We’ve come a long way and are learning important lessons as we go. DN’s leadership tactics of personal slander, stoking conspiracies and character assassination needs to stop. It creates needless drama and concern with key stakeholders. There’s a lot of people that have suffered at their hands. DN Portland unfortunately has largely followed the pattern of the DN leadership, although most others are respectful.

It’s time to call this out and I hope others will as well, and stop enabling behavior in a psychedelic movement that should conduct itself in a much higher vibration.


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David Bronner

David Bronner is Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s, the grandson of company founder, Emanuel Bronner, and a fifth-generation soap maker. He is a dedicated vegan and enjoys surfing and dancing late into the night.

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