Here’s a question: Should California decriminalize “natural” psychedelic drugs for individuals 21 years and older?
The Eureka City Council pondered that question during this week’s regular meeting and discussed the ins and outs of Senate Bill 58 – a state initiative that seeks to decriminalize the possession and personal use of certain psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin (magic mushrooms), psilocin, Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline (excluding peyote) and ibogaine. The initiative criticizes the criminalization of psychedelics and highlights the potential therapeutic and medical benefits of such substances.
Several California cities have already decriminalized “natural” psychedelics, including Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Similarly, the Arcata City Council voted to decriminalize the use of entheogenic plants and fungi in the city in October 2021.
Councilmember Scott Bauer, who initiated the action item and asked fellow councilmembers to consider a letter of support for SB 58, emphasized the “real, definitive medical benefits” associated with illegal psychedelic substances.
“At one time cannabis was illegal and we’ve come to see it for a lot of people as a medicine,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There are substances like Ibogaine … that really help people with opioid abuse [and] can actually help them get out of that vicious cycle. DMT and psilocybin [have been] proven effective for people with PTSD. They can help our veterans get out of serious depression and anxiety. … I don’t think kids should be using it. I think a lot of these substances should be used under medical supervision.”
Councilmember G. Mario Fernandez thanked Bauer for bringing the item forward and expressed his support for the state measure. “I appreciate whoever put this letter together calling out specifically the War on Drugs,” he said. “I may have used the phrase ‘catastrophic failure’ but I appreciate what’s been put in here so far.”
Councilmember Renee Contreras de Loach acknowledged the pros and cons of the bill, specifically the chance of someone having a “bad trip” while under the influence of psychedelics and “sending any kind of message to the youth.”
“Some of [those effects are] permanent but that’s something that happens with pharmaceuticals as well,” she said. “I think the other thing is decriminalization [versus] legalization. … This is not legalization. This is decriminalization, which is an entirely different thing that’s more about not directing resources towards persecution of individuals or not directing law enforcement [in] that direction.”
Councilmember Leslie Castellano also expressed her support for the bill. She acknowledged concerns surrounding the misuse of psychedelics but emphasized that there would be “many precautions in place as we’ve seen with other substances.”
Councilmember Kati Moulton added that decriminalization of psychedelics would provide an opportunity “for people to talk about these substances and their uses, and talk about ways to engage with them safely.”
Several members of Decriminalize Nature Humboldt – the group that initiated the decriminalization of entheogenic plants and fungi in Arcata – spoke in favor of the bill during public comment.
“I’ve been in continuous recovery from addiction for 13 years,” said Jen Bruce, one of the founding members of Decriminalize Nature Humboldt. “I went the traditional route [for recovery] and it worked great, but I was still struggling with so many of the disorders that you hear these medicines treat. … I had the resources to leave the country and go to Mexico for an Ibogaine treatment five years into my recovery and it changed my life.”
Bayside resident Karen Brooks acknowledged the medical and therapeutic benefits associated with psychedelics but urged the council to proceed with caution.
“This is definitely an emerging therapy … but gosh, we are just at the beginning of this treatment protocol,” she said. “I think there needs to be more discussions and experts in the field really kind of educating all of us about these therapies before we just go jumping in because we don’t know what the unintended consequences are. This is not necessarily one size fits all. … These are powerful drugs and they need to be used wisely and properly.”
After a bit of discussion, Moulton made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation and direct Mayor Bergel to sign the letter of support for the bill, which was seconded by Castellano. The motion passed in a unanimous 5-0 vote.
You can read the letter of support for SB 58 here.
The council also took a look at the “Complete Streets” policy proposal, which aims to make our streets safer for all people who use them, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
“This is not a new concept, especially not new for the City [of Eureka],” said City Transportation Engineer Scott Ellsmore. “I don’t see this policy as a change so much as a way to highlight what we currently do. … This policy shows the city’s commitment to the safety of all modes of transportation.”
The policy would codify the city’s commitment to the safety of all residents by setting planning, design and building standards to better accommodate all methods of transportation. “A Complete Streets Policy specifies how a community will plan, design, and maintain streets so that they are safe for users of all ages and abilities,” the staff report stated. “A strong policy begins transforming a community’s practices, processes, and plans to achieve the desired goal.”
Speaking on behalf of the Eureka Transportation Safety Commission, Phillip Beaudry and Caroline Griffth said the policy would “formalize a lot of the work that’s already happening in Eureka.”
“We’re working to build a city that works for all of the transportation systems, that works for all of its users,” Griffith said. “Adopting a Complete Streets policy is not only good for community safety, it’s also one of the goals of the 2040 General Plan that has been adopted.”
Councilmember Moulton emphasized the importance of creating more bike-friendly routes for commuters, noting that a lot of people refrain from walking or biking to work “because it’s dangerous” and the infrastructure simply isn’t there. “I believe we will see those folks who are eager to get out of their cars … when it’s safer to do so,” she said.
After a bit more conversation, the council unanimously approved the item in a 5-0 vote.
The council also went through its annual ritual of appointing one another to various boards, committees and commissions. It wasn’t a particularly exciting process, but important nonetheless. If you’d like to check it out, click this link and skip ahead to the 02:22:00 mark.