By CAMERYN CASS
Capital News Service
LANSING — As Ann Arbor readies for a one-year anniversary celebration of its decriminalization of psychedelic plants and fungi, state lawmakers are considering a similar move that would apply to the entire state.
It would drop the punishment for possessing and using entheogenic plants and fungi that contain naturally occurring psilocybin, mescaline, ibogaine, psilocyn, dimethyltryptamine and other hallucinogenic compounds.
Sens. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, recently introduced the legislation. The bill would be the first step in encouraging research and understanding about these controversial substances that have medicinal and religious value and a low propensity for abuse, Irwin said.
“To me, it makes a lot of sense to focus on these substances and decriminalize them because locking people up and spending police time and resources trying to ruin people’s lives over use of these substances makes zero sense,” he said. “We need to end the war on drugs.”
In 2016, Michigan spent $860.3 million to enforce drug control, according to the Cato Institute. Irwin said he wants to refocus this effort on helping people with programs and therapy, a strategy for drug control that a handful of other cities, states and countries have followed.
Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, who chairs the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, has not scheduled it for a hearing.
“It’s not on my radar screen,” he said. “There’s a lot to consider.”
There is more research and clinical testing to do, said Victory, who wants to review scientific studies before taking it up.
EntheoFest will be held Sept. 19 at the University of Michigan Diag in Ann Arbor, hosted by the Student Association for Psychedelic Studies. The goal of this event is to advocate for statewide decriminalization with a variety of speakers, including Irwin.
Michael Williams, the co-director of Decriminalize Nature Michigan, an advocacy group that lobbied Ann Arbor to decriminalize entheogenic plants, said that any substance carries a risk.
These substances are largely non-addictive and safe, said Williams, who credits them with helping end his drug addiction.
“You just need to weigh the risk with the benefit,” he said.
Psychedelic drugs have been used with therapy to help patients suffering from depression, anxiety and substance abuse, according to Decriminalize Nature.
Especially helpful are psychedelic mushrooms containing psilocybin, which binds with several serotonin receptors, according to a study in the Mental Health Clinician.
With these substances being illegal, people are “constantly having to make that choice about whether or not to take a product that helps relieve their pain or their stress and breaking the law,” Irwin said.
But critics worry about the impact on impaired driving.
As there is no set chemical test to give someone suspected of being under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, a certified drug recognition expert is required to make an arrest, said Robert Stevenson, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.
There are only 100 certified drug recognition experts in Michigan, and certifying more is a lengthy process, Stevenson said. Drivers suspected to be under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug also require a blood test, which requires a search warrant.
After the legalization of recreational marijuana, there were similar concerns about an increase of drug driving.
“We haven’t seen the surge they had expected,” said Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt. “Originally, everyone thought the sky was going to fall in, and we haven’t seen that.”
Advocates of decriminalization argue it’s unlikely that impaired driving rates will increase, as it’s unlikely that recreational use will increase.
“If someone is impaired and they are unsafe to be on the road, that’s going to come out in the examination on the roadside,” Irwin said. “There’s a relatively small number of users, and people who do use usually use much less frequently.”
As Michigan is looking to decriminalize only entheogenic plants, Irwin said “part of the beauty of decriminalization, for its limitations, is that it doesn’t require any enforcement.”
Decriminalizing psychedelics has been on ballots around the country several times with varying success. Advocates are looking for a way to end former President Richard Nixon’s 1971 war on drugs.
“We need to end the war on drugs. The war on drugs is the granddaddy of all big government failures,” Irwin said.