Shrooms graphic to illustrate shrooms.

After seeing that the Humboldt County Drug Task Force (HCDTF) made several drug-related arrests in Arcata yesterday, including  two individuals who were arrested and booked for selling psilocybin mushrooms, some folks might be a little confused. Didn’t Arcata decriminalize shrooms? Why are people still getting arrested for them, man? you might be asking yourself.

And it’s a valid question. The Arcata City Council did pass a resolution last year that decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, mescaline, ayahuasca and other entheogenic plants in the City. But what exactly the resolution means for the community, may need some further explanation. Reached by the phone late Friday morning, Sergeant Matthew Tomlin offered some clarification as to why the task force made the shrooms-related arrests.

“First of all, it’s illegal to sell psilocybin mushrooms anywhere in the state of California,” Tomlin told the Outpost. “And what direction the council gives to their own law enforcement agency, that’s their choice. But that does not affect how the drug task force is going to enforce the law.”

So, yes, the HCDTF – which operates out of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s office – does not need to adhere to Arcata’s resolution. But, to be clear, the resolution also does not prohibit the Arcata Police Department from making arrests for the sale of magic mushrooms or other entheogenic plants. From the resolution, drafted by local advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Humboldt:

… Investigation and arrest of persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, or possessing Entheogenic Plants and Fungi or plant compounds which are on the Federal Schedule 1 list shall not be a public safety priority for the City of Arcata; and that only limited City funds and resources be used to investigate, detain, arrest or pursue prosecution for an alleged violation of State and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic plants by a person twenty-one (21) years of age and older when other code violations are present such as a public disturbance, driving while under the influence, use in the presence of minors, or jeopardizing public safety.

Basically, Arcata’s resolution directs law enforcement to treat the possession and use of psychedelics – like shrooms – as a low priority, and says that police should only really arrest people for the use of psychedelics if they’re breaking another law or causing a ruckus. The resolution also doesn’t really offer any protection for the sale of psychedelics, although it does cover “distribution.”

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn told the Outpost that his department certainly has adhered to the council’s wish to not prioritize psilocybin mushrooms or other psychedelics and the department has not been making arrests related to these types of substances. The APD already didn’t consider psychedelics a priority, even prior to the resolution, Ahearn said.

But Ahearn does feel that sale of any drugs on the street – shrooms included – is a problem, and one that he does want to prioritize addressing.

“[Dealing] is illegal, regardless of the substance,” Ahearn told the Outpost. “That’s a message that’s important for us to send…We have a significant addiction problem in Arcata and that applies to adults and applies to youth. And if we as a police department aren’t working to try to keep people away from [drugs], then I’m not doing my job.”

Ahearn says drug sales on the Arcata Plaza have been an ongoing issue and something that the department receives many calls about from concerned community members. Because of the volume of calls, Ahearn decided to ask the DTF for assistance and requested that agents “engage in undercover operations regarding continued complaints of controlled substances on the plaza,” he said. Ahearn added that he didn’t specify which substances he wanted the DTF to look out for, but just made a general request for assistance.

But Tomlin assured the Outpost that busting people for shrooms was not one of the goals of Thursday’s sting operation. Like the APD, the HCDTF does not consider psilocybin mushrooms a priority when it comes to enforcement and is much more concerned with more dangerous substances, such as methamphetamines, heroin and fentanyl – a drug that the HCDTF is especially concerned about right now, with Humboldt County seeing a recent uptick in overdoses from fentanyl.

“We don’t go out actively looking for psilocybin mushrooms,” Tomlin told the Outpost. “But it is our responsibility – and something Sheriff Honsal takes great pride in – to address neighborhood oriented types of problems. By that I mean when local agencies reach out to the Drug Task Force and advise us on issues in their area, that we will assist them.”

Wanting to help Arcata address the issues with drug dealing on the plaza, the HCDTF sent undercover agents on a buy operation. Tomlin said that the agent did not actively search for psilocybins, but asked about purchasing other, harder substances – meth, heroin, fentanyl. After arresting two individuals for methamphetamines, the agents returned to the Plaza and asked around some more. Tomlin said that this time no one said they had access to those substances, but one person did say he knew someone selling “shrooms” and put the agent in contact with them. The two individuals selling the shrooms were then arrested. 

When contacted about the arrests, Arcata Councilmember Sarah Schaefer – who had placed the resolution to decriminalize entheogens on the city council agenda – said that she feels the police acted correctly in this instance. Schaefer did say that these arrests have prompted her to initiate another meeting with the APD and Decriminalize Nature Humboldt to discuss safety concerns and education surrounding the sale of psilocybin mushrooms. The purpose of Arcata’s resolution was to decriminalize entheogenic plants for personal use and to show that Arcata understands the therapeutic benefits these plants can have, Schaefer said. 

“We don’t want to see people dealing drugs on the Plaza — where students, families, kids are hanging out,” Schaefer told the Outpost. “The spirit of the resolution is not seeking out people who are using [entheogens] for personal use and personal benefits. But there were mass sales going on, which is not permitted under the resolution.”