Entheogenic Practices With Psilocybin In Oregon: A Struggle For Recognition After Measure 109

The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board held its second-to-last meeting with Oregon Health Authority officials and attorneys from the Department of Justice (DOJ), prior to sending final recommendations to state regulators.

The meeting was apparently contentious, and for the first time, it began with a closed-door executive session. Journalists were permitted to attend if they vowed not to report on it, yet the public was excluded, wrote Mason Marks on Marijuana Moment.

The topic was a proposed set of rules titled "Privileges and Duties of Entheogenic Practitioners," drafted by Oregon attorney Jon Dennis. He presented it to the board's Health Equity and Licensing Subcommittees this spring, receiving the approval of each committee. It was then sent to the full board.

The proposal came as a reply to last year's public concerns that corporate interests may have dominated the rulemaking process in such a way that historically spiritual or religious non-profit communities that use psilocybin in their practices have been excluded from a legal perspective.

The Oregon Psilocybin Services Act

Let's remember where and how it all started. Oregon's psilocybin industry originated during the 2020 election when state voters passed ballot Measure 109 (or Oregon Psilocybin Services Act). The initiative required Gov. Kate Brown to create an advisory board and triggered a two-year development period in which members propose rules to the health authority. But while the health authority waited until December 31 to publish its final rules, the board's recommendations are due on June 30, and only one meeting remains.

Apparently, this is not the first time the board is consulting the DOJ for guidance. In this case, help came moments before the board discussed and voted on Dennis's proposal, which appears to have garnered significant public support. Over 500 people signed a petition drafted by the Entheogenic Practitioner's Council of Oregon, which urged the board and health authority to adopt the proposal. A somewhat general concern is that psilocybin rules in Oregon have been over-medicalized, turning what was intended to be an open and inclusive program into a form of psychotherapy.

Actual Representation in Decision-Making: Theory vs. Practice

As a matter of fact, though Measure 109 created a non-medical system, most of the board members have healthcare backgrounds. That has given rise to the opinion that the current structure excludes Indigenous and religious perspectives in the rule-making process.

What is more, when the board's Research Subcommittee produced a review of evidence regarding psilocybin use, data were taken almost exclusively from clinical trials despite Measure 109's mandate to consider other sources. In this regard, one anonymous commenter expressed, "As a founder of a sacred mushroom church, I've been following this for several months… I found it extremely problematic that religious organizations are being treated the same as therapeutic organizations. It's kind of offensive to me that we are subject to medical protocols and regulations when the medical establishment got the mushrooms from the spiritual practitioners."

Measure 109 requires the facilitators who will administer psilocybin in Oregon to hold only a high school diploma. However, emerging training programs are often geared toward healthcare professionals, and some exclude those without medical backgrounds. This is what another source expressed regarding this reality: "It's been very hard for me to serve on these boards, and even these types of meetings because…we're hearing from a lot of doctors and a lot of lawyers. And to sit in these meetings, it's like a whole different type of language, and this language doesn't transfer well to our community. And the reason we're speaking these different languages is to separate and say, ‘I'm the one who is doing this,' and they are down there doing that…and I want us to think about that."

Another issue pertains to racial equity. The Act establishes that there should be a person from one of the nine federally recognized tribes. The current board does not have that presence among its members, and most likely that will not change before June 30, the end date for recommendations.

Concerns over the Proposal

The Health Authority posed a couple of questions to DOJ attorneys. The first asks whether the health authority can exempt psilocybin practitioners from licensure under Measure 109. A second asks whether the authority can exclude practitioners from all psilocybin rules.

According to the proposal's creator, Dennis, both concerns have little apparent connection to do with it. Instead of exempting practitioners from licensure or all administrative rules, it asks the health authority to create a parallel set of rules, which largely overlap with the existing ones, tailor-made for non-profit communities such as religious and spiritual groups.

If the framework was adopted, community practitioners would still be licensed, and like other practitioners, they would be subject to rules created by the health authority.

A third question refers to whether the health authority can adopt less restrictive standards for religious practitioners. For Dennis, this question appears to "reflect a misunderstanding of the proposal," originally focused on non-profit communities. The Oregon attorney says the board owes the public a duty to understand and meaningfully discuss the issues, and that by refusing to do that they have breached the public's trust and their duty to advise. "Studies show that when presented with evidence and information that challenges one's beliefs, a common reaction is to become more convinced that one's beliefs are correct instead of being open to new information. That appears to be what happened here," Dennis stated.

Yet there had been several previous attempts to educate the board and health authorities on the proposal's purpose and content: representatives of the Religious Use Committee of the Psychedelic Bar Association and the Entheogenic Practitioners Council of Oregon requested meetings. Both of them were allegedly rejected.

In terms of results, in last week's meeting most board members ultimately voted against the proposal, offering few reasons for rejecting it. Chair Dr. Atheir Abbas described the proposal as untenable in its current form: "The issue with this framework is that it is counter to equity. It is unfair to people who are not entheogenic practitioners, and so we need to develop a framework that is really comprehensively fair," he expressed without further explanation.

However, the Health Equity Subcommittee, which approved Dennis's proposal, has an answer to the stated concern: "There is nothing that says we have to recommend this framework in its totality. There are several components that are rich and that are tenable and that might make sense for a non-profit organization or community-based organization or organizations that identify with Indigenous cultural practices."

There are also some board members who even question Dennis's motives. To this, two board members responded that Dennis had acted on his own accord without any financial support, which Dennis also later confirmed to Marijuana Moment was the case.

After rejecting the proposal at the Wednesday meeting, the board spent over an hour reviewing an unrelated set of licensing recommendations. "The difference between that discussion and the previous discussion about the proposal was striking," said Dennis. "Board members thoughtfully engaged with the licensing recommendations while the community proposal had been summarily dismissed. From the outside, it appeared like they were just raising technical objections and hiding behind them as pretext to avoid a thoughtful discussion."

Before the meeting ended, chair Dr. Rachel Knox from the Health Subcommittee urged the board to revisit the proposal next month and sincerely evaluate its elements in order to produce recommendations prior to the board's June deadline.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Acosta on Pixabay.

Posted In: CannabisNewsPsychedelicsMarketsEntheogenic Practitioner's Council of OregonJon DennisOregon Psilocybin Advisory Board
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