Seattle Now The Largest City to Decriminalize Psychedelics

Cedric Jones Last Updated: June 07, 2022 Print

In September 2018, Seattle, home of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, became the first city in the nation to stop charging people for possessing small amounts of all drugs.

In yet another landmark move, on October 4, 2021, the city council unanimously passed a resolution that calls for “full decriminalization” of psychedelics used “in religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices,” making Seattle the largest U.S. city to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi. 

In this article, we will examine the impact of that September 2018 decision to not charge for small amounts of all drugs. We will also delve into the particulars of the city’s resolution to decriminalize psychedelics.

New Approach to Low-Level Drug Possession

In September 2018, Seattle made the unprecedented move to not charge people for possession of less than one gram of any drug — heroin, meth, and crack included. As a result of this decision, many people who would have been locked up are now offered treatment alternatives. 

According to King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg, it’s a profound shift that builds on efforts in Seattle, which is located in King County, to provide treatment for low-level drug offenders and other programs to assist with their recovery.

Satterberg calls the movement away from prosecution and toward treatment “peace on drugs” as opposed to the “war on drugs” that preceded it.   

Seattle’s Approach to Drug Abuse: Public Health Crisis vs. Criminal Activity

Seattle’s decision to approach drug abuse as a public health crisis rather than criminal activity began with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in 2011. LEAD initially took clients facing low-level drug charges. 

However, since the city implemented the policy of not arresting people for possession of small amounts of drugs, most clients are now referred to the program by police or community groups instead of being arrested. With rare exceptions, violent offenders are excluded from the program.

Seattle’s decision to stop arresting people for small amounts of drugs has attracted attention. Lawmakers in Philadelphia and Boston are considering similar measures. It has been lauded by criminal justice reformers as a humane alternative to the punitive drug policies of the “war on drugs,” which has resulted in exploding prison populations, devastated minority communities, and has had little impact on the increasing rise in chronic drug abuse. 

It’s still too early to determine the impact that Seattle’s new drug-possession policy has had on use and crime, but Satterberg says that coupled with the LEAD program, it is an important step in moving drug abuse from a criminal justice issue to a public health issue and promises to stick with it. “I want to continue this experiment,” Satterberg said. “We want to create an apparatus of help and support for people instead of just punishing, punishing, punishing.”

Seattle City Skyline at Night. Seattle, Washington, USA.

Next Step: Decriminalizing Psychedelics

The next step in Seattle’s efforts to alleviate the socio-economic ills created by the “war on drugs” has been to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi, which the city council did by unanimous approval of a resolution in October 2021. Entheogenic plants and fungi are plants and fungi that contain naturally-occurring psychedelic compounds.

Washington state is on the verge of passing similar decriminalization laws, starting with psilocybin. Port Townsend, WA, also moved to decriminalize natural psychedelics in 2021.

What’s In The Resolution?

The legislation proclaims “that the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen-related activities should be among The City of Seattle’s lowest enforcement priorities” and directs the police department to “move toward the formal codification and adoption of that practice as departmental policy.”

The resolution extends what is already Seattle city policy not to arrest or prosecute people for possession of small amounts of drugs to also protect the cultivation and sharing of psychedelic plants and fungi for “religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.” 

Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Covered by the Resolution

Entheogenic plants and fungi are plants, and fungi found all over the world that contain naturally-occurring psychedelic compounds. They have been used by native and indigenous cultures worldwide for religious ceremonies and medicinal purposes for centuries. Psychedelic compounds covered by the proposal include — but are not limited to:

Psilocybin & Psilocin

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms,  has proven to be medically beneficial in treating a variety of mental health disorders as well as cluster headaches and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. 

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the most promising potential for psilocybin is for the treatment of addiction — including smoking, alcoholism, cocaine, and opioid addictions. 

Since 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted psilocybin “breakthrough therapy status” on several occasions to allow for research into its potential for therapeutic use, including treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD). The FDA defines breakthrough therapy as a level of legalization that allows researchers to “expedite the development of a drug after preliminary evidence shows the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy.”

Ibogaine 

Ibogaine has been called “one of the most promising and perilous psychedelics for addiction.” Studies show that ibogaine, a compound derived from a shrub in central west Africa, can be effective in treating alcohol and drug addiction. It has proven to be effective in treating withdrawal symptoms, easing cravings, and lowering the risk of relapse. 

Other potential medical uses include:

  • Reducing fever
  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Migraine headaches
  • Eating disorders

Ayahuasca 

Ayahuasca is a concentrated liquid — a “tea” —that is usually made by boiling the Banisteriopsis caapi vine with the leaves of the Psychotria viridis or Mimosa pudica shrubs. 

However, it can be made with any plant containing DMT brewed with one having an MAO inhibitor.

Mescaline & Synthetic Psychedelics Were Not Included in the Resolution 

In deference to mescaline’s religious and cultural significance to the Indigenous people of the American Southwest, it is specifically excluded from the list of entheogenic plants decriminalized in the resolution.

Mescaline is the active ingredient in a variety of psychedelic cacti species, such as San Pedro and Peyote. 

Leaders of Indigenous and Native cultures say that decriminalizing mescaline, a naturally-occurring psychedelic compound found in a variety of cacti, including the Peyote cactus, will negatively impact the supply available for religious ceremonies. Currently, members of the Native American Church are the only people legally allowed to possess and use mescaline. 

Synthetic psychedelics such as LSD, MDMA, bath salts, and other man-made psychedelic compounds are not included.

Why Decriminalize Psychedelics?

Decriminalizing psychedelics was a logical next step in Seattle’s efforts to address drug abuse and addiction as a public health crisis. The resolution, introduced by Councilmember Andrew Lewis, was inspired in part by the City Council’s interest in reducing opioid-related deaths. 

In June 2021 the Seattle City Council asked a local task force to study the overdose crisis. One of their recommendations was that the city decriminalize psychedelics. The group said that psychedelics “could be a promising treatment to address substance abuse disorders and mental health issues.”

Another compelling reason for decriminalizing psychedelics, according to the resolution, was that “entheogens have been recognized as sacred to human cultures around the world for centuries, and continue to be revered and utilized to this day by venerable and sincere cultural and spiritual leaders and communities throughout the world and the United States.”

Decriminalization vs. Legalization: What’s the Difference?

All of the entheogenic plants and fungi decriminalized by the Seattle resolution are on the federal and state of Washington Schedule 1 Controlled Substances list. They have been decriminalized, but not legalized. There is a significant difference.  

When a substance is decriminalized, it means that although the substance is technically still illegal, the arrest and prosecution for possession and use of the substance has been relegated to a very low priority. 

To legalize a substance is to remove all criminal penalties associated with it. Entheogenic plants and fungi are still illegal in Seattle. You can — and most likely will! — be arrested for the sale and distribution of magic mushrooms, ibogaine, and ayahuasca. However, the criminal penalties for personal use and possession of the substances have been suspended.

Where Can I Buy Magic Mushrooms in Seattle?

You cannot legally buy magic mushrooms anywhere in the United States. As aforementioned, psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, is a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. This means that the sale of it — in any form — is against federal and state law.

However, since magic mushroom spores contain no psilocybin, they are available for sale in Seattle. This means that, if you are so inclined, you can grow your own magic mushrooms. 

Growing Your Own Magic Mushrooms

Magic mushroom spores are available for sale online in Seattle in spore syringes and spore prints. Spore syringes are oral syringes filled with mushroom spores and distilled water. The water protects the spores from damage. 

Spore prints are simply spores stamped onto a sheet of paper. The syringes and prints average around 15-$30 each. They can be used to grow your own magic mushrooms. This can be done in two ways: using a mushroom grow kit, and from scratch.

Mushroom Grow Kit

The mushroom grow kit is a very easy way to grow your own magic mushrooms. The kit is completely self-contained and comes with detailed instructions. The spores are sold separately. 

The basic kits start at around $50 but can cost as much as $400. Depending on the species of mushrooms, it takes about 4-6 weeks for a mushroom grow kit to produce magic mushrooms.

Growing Magic Mushrooms From Scratch

Many of the things you need to grow magic mushrooms at home from scratch can be found around your house. However, a minimum investment of around $200 will still be required.

The process of growing magic mushrooms from scratch is easy, but it is by no means simple. It is imperative that you diligently follow detailed instructions from a reliable source to ensure a safe, successful operation. 

It will take about four to eight weeks from preparation to harvest when growing magic mushrooms at home from scratch. The biggest advantage to growing them from scratch is that you have complete control over the quality of the product. For your safety, make sure you trust only a well-established, reputable source for instructions on growing magic mushrooms from scratch.

Key Takeaways: Seattle Takes Point in the “Peace on Drugs”

Seattle began its “peace on drugs with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in 2011. The decriminalization of psychedelics is the city’s latest move in an effort to atone for some of the socio-economic carnage of the “war on drugs.” The City Council is already looking ahead to its next move.

In response to the Council’s request for advice on how to curb overdose deaths, a local task force is recommending the decriminalization of all drugs. According to the task force, removing the criminal penalties associated with controlled substances would “create opportunities for research and access to a regulated safe supply in a manner that is safest for everyone in the community.”

The decriminalizing of all drugs is just one of the policy recommendations by the task force, which was convened and led by the organization VOCAL-WA and other community activists. They also recommended expanding housing, treatment, and harm reduction services for victims of addiction.