A Michigan senator has introduced a bill aimed at decriminalizing naturally occurring psychedelic substances like psilocybin mushrooms. Senate Bill 499 (SB 499) would amend Michigan’s public health code to protect adults aged 21 and over from facing harsh criminal penalties for possessing, using, or growing entheogens for personal use.
On September 14, 2023, Ann Arbor Senator Jeff Irwin (D) introduced SB 499 to the Senate Regulatory Affairs Committee. The bill intends to amend Michigan drug laws by excluding entheogenic substances. According to the legislation, an entheogen is “a plant or fungus of any species in which there is naturally occurring.” The approved compounds include dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin, and psilocin. Any adult in possession of these substances would not violate the state’s public health code drug policies as long as they are not selling the substances.
Sen. Irwin noted that Michigan’s current drug laws were made with more dangerous substances in mind, such as meth, cocaine, and heroin. The original bill finds the use of all classified Schedule I or II substances a felony crime punishable by life in prison or incredibly high fines. Irwin believes this law is unjust.
“Should people go to jail for this? Should we spend money for these crimes? My answer is no,” he said to Fox 2 Detroit.
Like other psychedelic decriminalization efforts, the substances would remain illegal; however, they would become the lowest priority for law enforcement, and state funds would not go towards cracking down on entheogen usage.
In recent years, Michigan has seen a shift in psychedelic reform, with a growing movement towards decriminalization policies in local jurisdictions. In September 2020, Sen. Irwin’s city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, made the unanimous decision to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi, making them the first city in the state to do so. Following Ann Arbor’s lead, other Michigan municipalities began to adopt similar measures. Detroit, Washtenaw County, and Hazel Park have all decriminalized natural psychedelics, and, more recently, the city of Ferndale has taken the same course of action. The growing list of cities reflects a trend of more supportive views toward shifting drug policies throughout the state.
Sen. Irwin’s proposal isn’t the first attempt at decriminalizing natural psychedelics in Michigan. An alliance of Michigan activists, including Decriminalize Nature and the Michigan Students for Sensible Drug Policy, organized a ballot initiative with the same goal in mind. The decriminalization initiative had been approved for signature gathering in March, only allowing two months to collect enough support by the June 1 deadline. As a result, the group recognized it would be more feasible to go through with a standard 180-day collection period instead, pushing the ballot initiative to the 2024 election cycle to give them more time to garner support and educate the public.
While the future of psychedelic reform in Michigan remains uncertain, it still holds promise for statewide decriminalization. The stigma surrounding psychedelics has substantially decreased in recent years as more research has come to light about their therapeutic potential for treating mental health conditions like PTSD and treatment-resistant depression (1).
Only two states in the U.S. have decriminalized psychedelics so far, Oregon and Colorado. However, this year, several cities across the country have independently decriminalized certain psychedelics, and approximately a dozen states have proposed various forms of psychedelic legislation. A proposed California bill aimed at decriminalizing small amounts of entheogens was recently passed through the state assembly and is now awaiting final approval by Governor Gavin Newsom. Plus, the first facilitated psilocybin centers in the nation have just opened up in the state of Oregon.
According to polls, more than 60% of U.S. voters are in support of legalizing psychedelic therapy, and with all the potential psychedelics have for treating mental health, Sen. Irwin believes that now is the perfect time to set forth his legislation.
SB 499 is expected to move forward in 2024. Sen. Irwin recognizes that the bill was crafted with a limited focus on psychedelic decriminalization. However, should it progress through the legislative chamber, it will undergo further adjustments focused on addressing the finer points of the legislation, such as determining the legal possession limits for these substances.