Detroiters casting ballots this November will be asked to weigh in on Proposal E, which would decriminalize the possession and therapeutic use of entheogenic plants.
The proposal, spearheaded by the group Decriminalize Nature Detroit, states:
“Shall the voters of the City of Detroit adopt an ordinance to the 2019 Detroit City Code that would decriminalize to the fullest extent permitted under Michigan law the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults and make the personal possession and therapeutic use of Entheogenic Plants by adults the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority?”
A yes vote approves decriminalizing entheogenic plants, though it would not legalize their use under state or federal law. Entheogens like magic mushrooms and peyote contain psychoactive substances and are classified as Schedule I drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration. They can alter perception and mood and have long-standing therapeutic and religious uses in some cultures.
Psychedelics go mainstream, but research on therapeutic uses still limited
The ballot initiative comes before Detroit voters as local and national support for decriminalization grows. Two Democratic state senators introduced legislation in September that would decriminalize entheogens. Ann Arbor City Council voted to decriminalize psychedelics last year, and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savet announced in January that his office would not charge people for use, cultivation or small-scale distribution.
Cities including D.C., Oakland and Santa Cruz, Calif., have all passed laws decriminalizing psilocybin and similar substances. Denver was the first U.S. city to do so in 2019.
One of the benefits of decriminalization is that it “would prevent many Detroiters from being prosecuted and would save the city and state money in enforcement costs,” according to an analysis of Proposal E from the nonpartisan policy group Citizens Research Council of Michigan.
Similar arguments were made in support of decriminalizing recreational marijuana, which Detroit passed through a ballot initiative in 2012, six years before voters approved legalization at the state level.
Institutions and private foundations have begun to pour funding into research on the therapeutic uses of psychedelics, and there is some evidence of their ability to treat conditions like depression, but research has overall been limited, notes the CRC analysis.
The CRC policy brief warns that decriminalization “would not authorize medical professionals to prescribe entheogenic plants under a therapeutic treatment plan,” and could create “a real danger of unmanaged use of these substances” that could have practical and psychological risks.
Who supports decriminalization and Proposal E
Some local practitioners who work with plant-based medicine support decriminalization generally, like Dr. Michaelene Ruhl of Farmington’s Constellation Healing Arts. “I think that with decriminalization, more and more people are going to start to be like, ‘Oh, it isn’t a drug. It’s a healing plant,’” she told Model D.
Moudou Baqui of Decriminalize Nature Detroit told the outlet he believes Proposal E could create a safer environment for people in Detroit who are already using entheogens therapeutically and potentially allow practitioners to operate more openly.
The Detroit Free Press editorial board recommends a yes vote on Proposal E, writing that they’d still want to “see more data before endorsing the broad legalization or widespread sale of such substances. But that’s not what voters are being asked to do. Prop E simply asks Detroiters to make clear that investigating the personal possession and use of hallucinogenic plants should be a low priority for their city’s police department.”
The Michigan Chronicle also published an editorial supporting Proposal E, arguing that it’s a step in the right direction towards criminal justice reform in the wake of drug enforcement policies that have disproportionately incarcerated Black men.
“The Black community already has a history of being criminalized above and beyond in the judicial system because of inflated charges, unjust treatment, and more toward drug-related crimes,” the editorial board writes. “Decriminalizing the use of magic mushrooms, especially for medicinal purposes, is what the Black community needs.”