In July 2019, Oakland became the first American city to legalise the consumption of magic mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote, San Pedro or iboga. The groundbreaking decision by the local government was taken unanimously and was made possible by the strength of an enthusiastic citizens’ movement that had been formed just a year earlier: Decriminalize Nature.
Less than three years have passed since that historic moment, and rare is the month that a new city does not join the list of US cities that decriminalise the possession and consumption (never the sale) of ‘master plants’ such as those mentioned above: Denver, Chicago, Oregon, Santa Cruz, Washington D. C… the movement for the decriminalisation of nature has been a major force in the US. C… the ‘decriminalisation of nature’ movement continues to grow from the cities with the intention of influencing state governments and eventually the federal government to finally reverse the stigma attached to many of these entheogenic plants.
The goal and master plan of Decriminalize Nature is explained in detail by one of its founders, Daniel Plazola, a Californian of Mexican origin, in an interesting interview with the Plantaforma para la Defensa de la Ayahuasca:
«The intention behind Decriminalize Nature is compassion for people who suffer great trauma and have been abandoned by our mental health system in the U.S. As you know, in this country we have an appalling health system for low-income people. Unfortunately, instead of taking care of the most fragile segment of the population, we tend to incarcerate them. That has been the federal government’s response since the 1980s under Ronald Reagan: a system that is abusive to the poorest of the poor. These plants have the potential to heal trauma, but also the ability for you to easily grow them yourself. We don’t need a lab for it, so it’s a solution for the masses who have mental health problems,» Plazola explains in the interview.
To achieve the abolition of prohibitionist laws regarding master plants, D.N.’s strategy is clear: local, state and national (and eventually international): «The reason why it’s important to work at the local level is because the higher you go up in government, at least in the United States, the more you have to pay to be heard. Corporations have taken over the discourse in such a way, at the state and federal level, that right now it’s a ‘pay & play’ system. By organising at the local level we don’t have to pay to have our voices heard, because our local representatives are members of our community, we can meet them in line at the supermarket, we can walk into their offices, have an appointment and have an open dialogue without having to sacrifice our values,» in Plazola’s words.
First we take Manhattan…
If Oregon was the first state to completely decriminalise the use of psychedelics, California may follow in its footsteps in the near future. A bill pushed by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener proposes the decriminalisation of all psychedelic drugs, as proposed by Decriminalize Nature: “Psychedelics hold great promise for the health and well-being of the population. We need to move from a criminalisation model to a health approach,” Senator Wiener emphasised in a tweet dated April 2021.
Our legislation to decriminalize psychedelics (#SB519) just passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-1 vote.
Psychedelics have so much promise for people’s health & well-being. We need to move away from a drug criminalization model & toward a health approach. pic.twitter.com/DRmmU2Plbk
— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) April 6, 2021
If California were to pass the bill, the consequences would be felt across the country, and even beyond its borders, as happened a few years ago with the legalisation of marijuana. It should not be forgotten that California is the most populous state in the US. (39 million people, slightly smaller than Spain), and its economy is huge: it is estimated that if California were an independent country, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world, surpassing India and the United Kingdom. It goes without saying that its cultural influence in the world is equal, if not greater.
However, the Decriminalize Nature citizens’ movement wants to distance itself from the commercial exploitation of plant medicine that could lead to its legalisation, as in fact has happened with marijuana itself. In fact, one of the anti-prohibitionist arguments around which the organisation’s ethos revolves is that, unlike synthetic psychedelics such as LSD or MDMA, which require a laboratory for their manufacture, anyone can grow their own mushrooms, peyote or even local varieties of ayahuasca at home or in their backyard.
In Plazola’s words: «Our great concern as activists is the deterioration of our relationship with the planet, the fact that we are not acting fast enough to stop climate change, the mass extinction of species… and what we know about these plants medicine is that they change our relationship with the environment and with each other. There’s something very powerful about Mother Nature producing these plants that allow us to reconnect with her and with each other at a critical time (…) It’s very difficult to connect with the Amazon rainforest when you live in, say, Oakland. You can do it from a conceptual point of view but it is much easier to connect with the plants that grow around you, which ones are edible, which ones are medicinal, how to combine them to get the effect of ayahuasca? This is the path that humanity must take to rebuild its relationship with nature.
As a decentralised movement, Decriminalize Nature has no control over the different ‘chapters’ that are being opened in cities around the country or abroad, which now number more than a hundred. The only requirement is that the local organisations share and uphold the code of ethics established by the founding team in Oakland, California.
For more information: Decriminalize Nature.
«Las plantas maestras pueden paliar la crisis de salud mental de los olvidados por el sistema en EEUU», Plantaforma, 18 de marzo de 2022.
‘California Senators Approve Bill To Legalize Possession of Psychedelics Like LSD, MDMA And Psylocybin’, Marijuana Moment, 6 de abril de 2021.
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