Legal magic mushrooms? Ann Arbor lawmaker wants to decriminalize psychedelic plants

A state senator wants to decriminalize the possession and use of psychedelic mushrooms and other entheogenic plants in Michigan.

Years after the state legalized the recreational use of cannabis, state Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said he wants to expand the conversation around certain substances and what role they should play in society.

"Should people go to jail for this? Should we spend money for these crimes? My answer is no," he said.

He cited potential medical benefits the substances may offer, like reducing depression. He also said the laws that criminalize their possession weren't meant for entheogenic plants - and instead were written with harder substances in mind like heroin and cocaine. 

And the reason for introducing the legislation now? Irwin says the idea is gaining momentum and it's time to broaden the conversation around them.

"When you got prominent people like Steve Jobs talking about it, people like Michael Pollan writing books about and schools across the world saying ‘I don’t know about this, there is real medical promise here', I think support is building," he said.

SB 499 would amend the public health code to make it not illegal for someone to grow, deliver, or possess entheogenic plants as long as they're not receiving money for the product. It would also decriminalize the use of entheogenic plants.

So far, the only state to go this far is Oregon. 

In Michigan, one of the first cities to approach psychedelic mushrooms with a decriminalized scope is Ann Arbor, which just recently celebrated its third annual Entheofest, a festival that advocates for policy change among the substances.

Irwin isn't surprised Ann Arbor is the first city to take the plunge.

"Ann Arbor has always been on the leading edge. They didn't just have a philosophy around embracing some of the hippy culture, but also it's a place where it's been demonstrated that decriminalizing cannabis won't create this ‘sky is falling’ reality that opponents argue," he said.

It's not just lawmakers that see a future with psychedelic fungus. Colleges are also vying for opportunities to study their properties, like at the University of Michigan. The Michigan Psychedelic Center recently opened under the university's Anesthesiology college. 

Dr. George A. Mashour, who founded the department said the country was in the "midst of a renaissance related to psychedelic neuroscience and therapy" when the new center was announced.

"Psychedelics are powerful tools to understand consciousness and also have potential to treat psychiatric disease. Our aim with the Michigan Psychedelic Center is to advance scientific understanding and clinical care through a responsible and rigorous approach."

According to Bridge Magazine, the center is studying whether psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound found in psychedelic fungus, can relief symptoms in people who suffer from fibromyalgia.

The compounds have also been associated with reducing symptoms relating to post-traumatic stress and anxiety.

Irwin said his bill was written with a narrow scope. But if it sees movement in the chamber - it was referred to the Committee on Regulatory Affairs on Sept. 14 - it would be modified to address smaller details about decriminalizing the substance, like how much one could possess without breaking the law.