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In the early 1990s, the idea of nationwide cannabis legalization was a pipe dream, with a scant 25% of US adults supporting the marijuana law reform cause. After medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996, though, the idea didn’t sound quite as farfetched. And when Colorado and Washington passed recreational legalization measures in 2012, the flood gates opened, and we haven’t looked back since.

Now, a nearly identical process is getting underway in support of psychedelic law reform, with cities and states moving to decriminalize and/or legalize drugs like psilocybin, ayahuasca, and other natural hallucinogenics. Earlier this month, the City Council in Seattle, Washington was the latest governing body to give psychedelics their blessing, voting to decriminalize naturally occurring hallucinogens in the Emerald City.

Psilocybin is a naturally-occuring psychedelic compound found in hundreds of species of mushrooms, most notably those of the genus Psilocybe. It is known for causing euphoria, introspection, visual and auditory hallucinations, and perceived spiritual experiences. Its mind-altering effects are similar to those created by LSD and DMT, though generally considered to be less intense than those two compounds. The use of psilocybin mushrooms is believed to predate recorded history, having been used for spiritual and recreational purposes for millenia.

“There’s a huge demonstrated potential for these substances to provide cutting-edge treatments for substance abuse, recovery from brain injuries,” and other issues, Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis told Bloomberg News. “I want to make sure we’re following the science in our policies around regulating these substances.”

The push for psychedelic freedom began in earnest in the same place where fully legal cannabis did – Denver. In 2019, Denver passed a citywide ballot measure that instructed authorities to consider psilocybin mushrooms “the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver.” Later that same year, City Councilors in Oakland, California passed a similar ordinance, pushing over a set of dominos that has now brought psychedelics law reform to nine cities and states.

“We just need the green light to bring these healing tools above ground and carry on what has been done for centuries,” Nicole Stewart from the group Decriminalize Nature Oakland told KQED Radio. “Healing ourselves through our relationship with nature. Let’s start here in Oakland and be a beacon of hope and healing.”

Unlike cannabis legalization, though, the psychedelic reform movement has not yet won the right to sell mushrooms or ayahuasca in dispensaries, or anywhere else for that matter. But while marijuana has relatively benign psychoactive effects even in large doses, experts in magic mushrooms warn that clinical supervision may be a more manageable and safe way to ease into legalization.

“Taking a gram of mushrooms recreationally with your friends sitting around and giggling at YouTube music videos … it’s harmless,” Sanjay Singhal, director of the Nikean Foundation, a nonprofit that funds psychedelics research, told Vox. “But it’s completely different from taking five grams, knocking you out in the presence of a therapist for five hours while your brain processes whatever trauma, anxiety, emotional issues you might have.”

In the first state to fully legalize psychedelics, that is exactly how things will take shape. Oregon voters passed a psilocybin legalization bill in November 2020. Instead of adding eighths of mushrooms or infused chocolates onto pot shop shelves, Oregon will welcome the regulated use of psilocybin in a therapeutic setting starting in 2023. Those mushroom-assisted therapies will be the first of their kind.

Just like cannabis, psilocybin is still a Schedule I drug in the eyes of the federal government, making clinical university research into the natural intoxicant nearly impossible. As the decriminalization and the legalization of psilocybin take hold, corporations and entrepreneurs have emerged as the primary source of study, giving advocates pause and inspiring the pursuit of federal action that would hopefully serve the greater good rather than shareholders.

“Under existing regulation, well-capitalized private companies fund most research and, to a large extent, they control the agenda and shape federal drug policies. Instead, the goal should be a psychedelics industry in which patients and marginalized communities have seats at the table,” the head of Harvard Law School’s Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation, Mason Marks, wrote in a research paper published earlier this month. “Achieving this goal will require more inclusive clinical trials and unbiased regulatory review of psychedelics by the FDA.”

Back in Seattle, police will be instructed to make psilocybin-related arrests and prosecutions a lower priority than jaywalking, hopefully ending low-level enforcement of mushroom use. And once again, just like cannabis, the dominos of psychedelic reform continue to topple others, with Denver’s City Council now working to expand its decriminalization measure to more closely resemble Oregon’s planned therapeutic use model. And a few miles down the west coast, California activists are working towards their own statewide decriminalization measure that could pass as soon as 2022.

“I believe it is possible that eventually, a critical mass or even a majority of states will legalize or decriminalize some or all of these psychedelics,” Ismail L. Ali, acting director of policy and advocacy at Santa Cruz-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, told NBC News. “We are in an early and sensitive phase in the process, and much remains to be seen in how different states navigate the emerging policy landscape.”

While attitudes and policy appear to be changing with regard to psilocybin and other naturally-occuring psychedelics, they remain federally illegal. This may open the door to further consideration of the therapeutic potential of all psychedelics, including LSD, and other similar compounds like MDMA and Ketamine, but for now there remains a stigma in many parts of the country where these substances are concerned.