The next drug debate is coming to the ballot in a growing number of rural counties this November.
On Tuesday, the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to put a ban on psilocybin manufacturing and service centers on the Nov. 8 ballot. Psilocybin is the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, and research has indicated it may be a useful drug in treating a variety of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Oregon voters legalized supervised therapeutic use of psilocybin in 2020, but the commissioners reasoned that since 62% of Umatilla County voters rejected the measure, they deserve another chance to weigh in.
“Because our citizens spoke so loudly about (how) we don’t want it, we want them to have the opportunity to opt-out again,” Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer said.
Umatilla County joins several other counties in asking their voters to consider banning the psychedelic drug from being sold in the county’s unincorporated areas before a state-managed system takes effect in January.
In Linn County, a commissioner said he feared access to psilocybin might lead youth to “doing things that may cost them their life” as the board sent the issue to the ballot. Jackson County commissioners approved a psilocybin referendum even as a company makes plans to turn a resort in Ashland into a psilocybin therapeutic retreat.
Shafer anticipates more local ballot measures in the future.
“I think you’re gonna see a lot more counties take the same action we took,” he said. “Our neighbors to the west, Morrow County, did it before we did. I think you’re going to see a domino effect come on, especially on the eastern side of the state.”
The trend is reminiscent of 2016, when the state gave local governments the ability to opt-out of legal cannabis sales. Many Eastern Oregon cities and counties justified outright bans by citing the regional split in support of 2014′s Measure 91, which legalized the creation of a recreational market.
But some communities in the region saw a shift in opinion after cannabis became legal. Two years after Umatilla County voters soundly rejected Measure 91, Pendleton residents voted to allow sales in 2016 as cannabis to be a tax boon for local governments.
Pendleton wasn’t alone. Other Eastern Oregon cities like Ontario, Sumpter and Huntington also opened their doors to cannabis sales. Some Eastern Oregon communities have benefited by selling to residents of Idaho, where cannabis — and psilocybin — remain fully illegal for recreational or medicinal use.
Although some communities in the region have embraced cannabis sales, Shafer said the lack of state regulation over illegal grows is another reason Umatilla County residents could be concerned about psilocybin.
“This one is supposed to be more regulated than the marijuana even,” he said. “That remains to be seen. I’m not getting my hopes up on that by any regard.”