Psychedelics on Track to be Decriminalized in Santa Cruz

City Council to vote on resolution in January

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Illustration by Ry X

Santa Cruz may soon become the third city in the U.S. to decriminalize the recreational use of psychedelic plants, after Denver and Oakland. A Public Safety Committee (PSC) meeting held on Nov. 3 at the Santa Cruz Police Station resulted in a unanimous motion to put a resolution decriminalizing psychedelics up for a vote by the City Council. 

According to Decriminalize Plants Santa Cruz affiliate Athonia Cappelli, the resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants was put before the PSC by members of the Decriminalize Santa Cruz campaign. The campaign is part of a larger national movement to relax laws concerning the use of psychedelic substances.

While entheogenic plants would still be illegal under federal and California state law, this resolution would direct local law enforcement agencies to deprioritize investigations, arrests and prosecutions related to entheogenic plants.

Twenty people showed up in support of the resolution, exceeding the opposition, which was comprised of two individuals. Many who testified in support of the resolution elaborated on the positive impacts entheogenic plants have had on their mental health.

“A single dose of psilocybin has been shown to drastically improve a person’s depression and anxiety,” said Kelly McCormick, a doctor of cognitive psychology during the meeting. “In a study of terminal patients suffering from end of life anxiety and depression the majority of people [who took psilocybin] reported that their anxiety resolved.”

McCormick also remarked that hallucinogenic plants haven’t been proven to be addictive and pointed to increasing evidence that entheogenic plants can combat addiction in cases of nicotine and opioid abuse.

Supporters also expressed criticism of U.S. policy toward entheogens and drug policy as a whole. Sean Cutler, President of the UCSC chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, was among them. Cutler noted the legality and comparatively high danger of substances such as alcohol and tobacco.

“It shows that drug policy in America is completely hypocritical,” Cutler said. “It’s not about public health, it’s about reinforcing European cultural norms. Europeans came here and they said, it’s culturally appropriate in Europe to drink alcohol, but your mushrooms? That’s weird, so we’re going to make it illegal because we want to impose our lifestyle on you.”

Santa Cruz resident Les Gripkey, who opposes decriminalization, cited numerous concerns including the potential for negative reactions to psychedelic substances and the nascency of research on the topic. One of his foremost concerns was the impact on minors.

“The main impact of decriminalizing will be to publicly normalize these hallucinogens, and greenlight increased cultivation and recreational use,” Gripkey said during the meeting. “While this resolution may be aimed at a small minority who hope to benefit, it sends the general message to all, including young people, that this intoxicant is safe. In many cases it is not.”

While the PSC stood in unanimous support of the resolution by the end of the meeting, it was not spared from scrutiny. City Council and safety committee member Donna Meyers voiced concern over the wording of the resolution.

“There’s some emphasis in [Santa Cruz’s resolution] that wasn’t in [Oakland’s],” Meyers said during the meeting. “The city of Oakland’s resolution is very clear around the decriminalization component, whereas ours has some very specific language about supporting use, cultivation and selling.”

The clarity of the resolution will dictate how law enforcement will interact with instances of psychedelic cultivation, use or distribution within the city of Santa Cruz. 

Daniel Flippo, Deputy Chief of Operations at the Santa Cruz Police Department, explained that while the department has no major concerns over the impacts of decriminalizing psychedelics in and of itself, there is notable concern over the clarity of the resolution in directing law enforcement.

“Decriminalization doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve taken a state law and made it no longer a crime,” Flippo said. “Is it a statement that Santa Cruz supports the use in certain circumstances? Or that they don’t want any enforcement of the drug? What if you have someone selling at a middle school campus? I’m not saying that happens, but the school might want us to enforce state law, which is why we need more clarity.”

With unanimous support from PSC members and the conditional blessings of Santa Cruz emergency services, the resolution to decriminalize will now be voted upon by the City Council in mid-January. This occurrence represents another victory for proponents of entheogenic plants. 

“Drugs like this can offer this kind of fulfilling experience and really help people realize their most mentally healthy state. I really think that we shouldn’t deny people that possibility,” said doctor of cognitive psychology, Kelly McCormick. “Everybody should have a right to their own cognition, and to explore different avenues for how to live a fulfilling life.” 

Illustrations by Ry X