While it was an intense process that not everyone was psyched about, I’m grateful to all the community leaders who gave such great input and feedback that helped shape and refine the Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA) into the most progressive drug policy this country has ever seen. In particular, a shoutout to Kevin Matthews, Veronica Lightninghorse, Sean McAllister, Jaz Cadoch, and Josh Kappel who joined the NMHA steering committee, and all the incredible NMHA campaign staff, New Approach and all the mega donors who stepped up again and again to bust this over the finish line. I’m also grateful to SPORE and all the other Mycoalition leaders for their great work organizing community input and feedback. And shoutout to the Colorado Decrim Nature leadership who also engaged and gave input into the NMHA, even if they weren’t psyched by various policy elements.
The tension point over whether to restrict decrim and sharing with friends to multiples of “personal possession amounts,” whether numerical limits were defined or not, led to initial friction and poor communication out of the gate. But as that improved dramatically, numerical limits were removed, and even in the intensity and heat of the process, substantive points were heard from community and incorporated. In fact, pretty much anything that wasn’t perceived as politically problematic to passage was incorporated. And given the narrow margin of victory, on review I appreciate the call by the political aces involved, that going beyond aggregating “personal possession” amounts risked a real funded opposition mobilized by specters of a “free for all” among uninformed and fearful voters. The primary goal that NMHA accomplishes, that we should feel good about on all sides, is that we can grow, share and aggregate personal possession amounts of natural medicine in one place or person, where facilitators and healers are legally protected, and we can proceed to set up aboveground community healing circles, grow co-ops, and churches.
However, I also appreciate the critique that community engagement could have been earlier, deeper, and longer even though the timelines and deadlines were real, and fundamentally many simply did not trust or want a government-regulated access program alongside decriminalization of natural medicines. I’m gratified to see Duffy and SPORE’s recent blog modulating previous rhetoric and offering critiques in a more fair and balanced way, and honoring the integrity and motivation of people involved. I also appreciate DN National’s recent Instagram posts expressing new understanding and support for the decrim policy in the NMHA, and praising the way local leaders, NMHA, and New Approach listened to community input and navigated political realities to a good decrim outcome within electoral constraints. I also appreciated this recent communication from Bob Otis, former board chair of Decrim Nature Oakland and Chief Garden Steward of the Sacred Garden Community Church, that he has been sharing with different city level groups working on decrim of plant medicines, promoting a “kinder / gentler decrim culture:”
- Request any regulated access policies to include decrim
- Consider supporting / working with regulated access pathways and policies that include decrim or that are open to decrim
- Recognize, develop, and promote potential for complementary relations between decriminalized and regulated communities and resources
- Recognize that there can be different views in these discussions, and respect historically excluded voices; for example, Native American Church guidance on peyote boundaries
- Avoid projecting unfounded character assassinations and/or conspiracy theories across communities or individuals holding different policy perspectives
- Avoid colonizing, fundamentalist, and binary political methods
- Be open to listening and incorporating different, diverse perspectives
- Be open with reasoned discernment and clear discussion to incremental policies and to policies that you feel may not be perfect, while recognizing and elevating potential impact of precedence in policy content and implementation
I’ve already blogged on the relative virtues of community healing and regulated access models and won’t repeat beyond noting that Colorado is now leading the way on both, and I’m hopeful for more harmonious relations and understanding between advocates as both models are essential and complement each other. But here, I want to focus on two amazing efforts on the community healing side of the equation, that we hope will bear real fruit in partnership with community leaders in Colorado.
First, I’m pleased to report that the Journey Cohort program of the Brooklyn Psychedelic Society is being refined into an effective, economical, and safe healing model that can be adapted by local community healing groups in Colorado and elsewhere. Important safety, screening and escalation protocols have been thought through and incorporated. BPS can only work legally with breathwork and cannabis in New York, and the opportunity in Colorado is obvious, where use of natural medicines are now legally protected. While Dr. Bronner’s has had to temporarily scale back our philanthropy, when we can, we hope to be able to help set up in partnership with community leaders, a community-led seed fund with representatives from various orgs, to provide seed financing to community healing projects in Colorado. Shoutout here also to our allies at ALKEMI who have been working on a community needs assessment survey that seeks to address the influx of needs from the general public that will be engaging with the personal use section of the NMHA, the political literacy that the general public has on the initiative, and what social services are needed in order to reduce harm state-wide.
Another major use of our funds as they become available will be to similarly pump up a seed fund administered by the Sacred Plant Alliance, a consortium of entheogenic churches that Chacruna incubated but is now independent. SPA leaders have worked with BPS and the Journey cohort program, advising and sharing their own screening protocols and other best practices. The advantage of setting up as a church is in addition to the state-level protection that the NMHA provides, churches can defend themselves from federal interference under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). SPA working with community leaders could identify and help stand up churches in Colorado that have good protocols and practices.
I was just talking with Jesse Gould (ED) and other rock stars at the Heroic Hearts Project, that sponsor vets at significant cost to travel and heal with Ayahuasca abroad, while providing preparation and integration services at home. They would of course love to see for economic accessibility reasons, responsible churches and community healing circles flourish in Colorado and elsewhere that they can send veterans to instead. Note that Heroic Hearts was a key NMHA ally, and Ayahuasca medicine and its ceremonial healing model will not ever be a part of the regulated access program; it’s imperative that we support and stand up responsible self-regulating community healing circles and churches in Colorado and elsewhere, that have competent facilitation, screening protocols and support services for their members.
This also highlights what really hit home in my most recent medicine experience¹: that the war trauma we are healing veterans with, is with Indigenous medicines and ways, from peoples and cultures that we almost destroyed and have so deeply traumatized. While arguably healing with synthetic MDMA, ibogaine, 5 MEO DMT and psilocybin in a therapeutic container is not so directly connected, in fact the attention and care to set and setting in the therapeutic container, and to proper preparation, facilitation and integration, is directly linked to Native American and Mazatec ceremonies. These inspired the psychedelic therapist godparents of the modern psychedelic renaissance in the west in the ’50s and ’60s. And it’s not even a question when veterans are healing in ceremonies and community healing circles with Indigenous natural medicines like ayahuasca and mushrooms.
Native Americans serve in our military at higher rates than any other demographic, and in vision I was seeing the opportunity to center and help heal the collective Native American and BIPOC traumas as we integrate psychedelic medicine and therapy into society to heal the war trauma of our veterans. But that’s one small part and only if we really see, own and take responsibility and reparate in policy that can help right the massive historical and ongoing wrongs and traumas inflicted by our dominant culture on BIPOC people. I was feeling the elders taking stock of how to guide things as the generations of humanity lap the shores of our near-term future world. Kind of multi-generational White Lotus Society style (high five Avatar the Last Airbender fans): their deep heart and love holding all the pain and suffering, and how do we best engage and move things forward in a good way, and purge the deep trauma from the heart of the American eagle, and truly heal and integrate fairly and completely all who are part of our great republic.
I know SPORE and other orgs and community leaders hold this perspective with passion, and I look forward to seeing and supporting Indigenous / BIPOC -led healing circles and churches flourish and prosper in Colorado and elsewhere, alongside and complementary to BIPOC-led regulated healing centers and facilitators. And on the regulated access side, NMHA puts in motion the most equitable program of its kind, deeply informed by community input, that supports and prioritizes BIPOC training programs, facilitators, clients, and clinics. But of course seating a diverse, progressive and competent Advisory Board is crucial to see this promise realized. On another front we are supporting the Indigenous Medicine Conservation Fund, that works directly with Indigenous medicine cultures and supports their Indigenous-led conservation efforts and projects. In that light, I would love to see during the implementation process in Colorado some sort of regulatory encouragement or mandate for benefit-sharing and honoring the communities that have stewarded these medicines; maybe 1% of fees assessed and raised for the regulated access program could go to the IMC Fund?
Similarly for racial justice reasons, I’m optimistic that New Approach, Drug Policy Alliance, and other allies will figure out the legal and strategic basis to unite regulated access and community healing models with all drug “treatment not jail” decrim into a single ballot measure. We need to end the ongoing harm and trauma that the drug war inflicts on BIPOC people especially, and treat people who struggle with addiction with compassion, like we do with alcohol, and not further traumatize them with arrest and incarceration. Combining forces will help address the funding needs for all drug decrim that wasn’t in good shape in the ’22 cycle, as well as enable MDMA and other synthetic psychedelics to participate in regulated access as well as community healing models. We look forward to working with national and in-state coalition leaders on both sides to make this dream a reality in the ’24 cycle.
¹ In general I’ve been having a series of intense transpersonal experiences in the context of the psychedelic medicine training that I’m in. Some are more “western” like seeing the Christ Phoenix in my dad’s chest as he was dying, radiating love into every fiber of his being in his experience of amazing Grace close to death. And generally have been appreciating more and more that religious systems all have their deep validity and truths mixed in with all the absurdity…. and have been experiencing also deep non-rational synchronities as part of this as well.
An example was, in 2018, I participated in a Wixárika ceremony in Wirikuta, sacred territory of the Huichol/Wixárika. I was a guest member of a delegation of Native American Church leaders from the north. The ceremony was a Unity prayer for humanity and with the dawning of the sun on my non-binary kid Maya’s birthday that’s also my granddad Dr. Bronner’s death day (with his similar passion for unifying humanity), they killed a bull as an offering to commemorate and honor the cycles of life death and rebirth. I’ve been a vegan since 1996, and was being very present, meditating that the colonialist mindset would judge this act of animal sacrifice as barbaric was so ass backwards. This animal got to live a good life fulfilling its instinctual behaviors, it was being reverentially prayed over and consumed, and it was the 99 percent of animals raised and slaughtered in our world in factory farm misery that was the true barbarism. And that in part this ceremony, for me, was honoring the launch immediately after at Expo West (the largest natural products trade show in the US), of the Regenerative Organic Certified standard we developed with Patagonia, Rodale, Compassion in World Farming, Fair World Project and other allies at the Regenerative Organic Alliance. Alongside next level soil health and fair labor criteria, this standard seeks to connect ethical consumers with regenerative organic farmers and ranchers, and restore right relationship in our world to the millions on millions of animals we raise and consume, by requiring pasture-based systems and prohibiting confinement and inhumane treatment generally. And generally, over the next couple of generations, help transition agriculture globally to a much more sustainable, fair and humane reality vs. the disaster on the planet it is now as a primary driver of the sixth great extinction event we’re in.
So there’s other stuff in here but also want to briefly note the mythic architecture of the Huichol / Wixárika people involves a deer being hero who gives his life to feed his starving family and community, and comes back in the form of peyote to teach how to live and love on this mega vibration. The deer is highly venerated and the channel of the prayer in ceremony, and is sometimes syncretized with Christ who’s story resonates in deep ways. But it’s very much a deer, which doesn’t make much sense on a Western rational level. But on the heart spirit level this cultural religious mode of expression of the highest deepest most heartfelt prayers of this incredible medicine people, channeling the best of humanity, our wishes and love and nurturance and care for each other and the natural world we live in, and the Creator of it All, operates on a whole other level.
This hit home with one of the most amazing synchronicities of my life a few months later right before Burning Man in Reno. I was meeting up with Jake Takiff, the high-level rancher from Colorado who raises and slaughters the cows and pigs that is the only meat we serve in our camp, only every other day, with the intent to teach our camp that if meat isn’t from a rancher like Jake you don’t need to eat it and can rock life on a plant-based tip. He slaughters his animals in the field with a rifle shot in the most humane possible way, with no stress to the animals. He and his wife Megan had just had a baby so he wasn’t coming to camp with us that year, and we just had a few brief hours in the Reno hotel parking lot transferring the meat from his to our refrigerated truck, and then grabbed a quick bite to eat. I was really excited to share with him my experience in ceremony with the Wixárika and the slaughter of the bull and insight that this was in part commemorating the launch of the ROC standard that seeks to educate and connect ethical consumers to farmers and ranchers like Jake, and restore right relationship generally between people and the animals we raise and consume. And how ass backwards our colonialist knee jerk judgments are of Indigenous traditions and medicines that hold the example and healing for our western malaise and disconnection from nature. He tells me as I’m relaying him my story, dude, I sit and pray with my local NAC chapter every week. And then right then my phone starts blowing up with real time pictures of the same NAC leaders I’d gone down to Wirakuta a few months below, with the same high level Wixárika marakames, taking the deer to an especially sacred site at that point on the calendar commemorating and sealing the unity prayer from months prior! I’m like woah wow Jake this is happening right now…. my friends were sending real time.
I’ll add that channeling prayer, love and devotion through Jesus similarly doesn’t make much sense on a rational level, but I have a new appreciation for how the tradition I was raised in can operate on a mystical spirit world level when engaged with a truly humble sincere reverential heart. And witnessing for example the huge works that MLK did in his name. But also alongside is the genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Black people in his name also, fundamental in the founding of this country. And that super dark shadow and trauma still wracks the American body politic alongside our ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. I pray that not too many more generations pass before this trauma and darkness is properly acknowledged and owned by our dominant mainstream culture, and purged in a fair, equitable, and restorative way.