We all may have gotten it wrong –
except Dennis Peron

In reflecting upon where Biden’s recent pardon of federal marijuana offenders fits into the reality of regulated cannabis (at least from my viewpoint in the San Francisco Bay area), a haunting question remains a puzzle to me. What if the result of decades of righteous campaigning to normalize the plant from the stigma that has permeated local and national debate since 1937 is a nightmare? What if federal legalization and regulation becomes the death knell of an already struggling, emerging cannabis industry?

Why is it that psychedelics (which generally have a much more dramatic mental impact than cannabis) seem to have an easier time with the law?

Perhaps it is the approach taken by the movement which has succeeded in the following jurisdictions that have taken steps to decriminalize entheogens.

Cities which have deprioritized: Arcata, Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz (California), Denver, District of Columbia, Cambridge, Easthampton, Northampton and Somerville (Massachusetts), Ann Arbor, Port Townsend and Seattle, and Washtenaw County, Michigan. Cities that have decriminalized: Detroit, Hazel Park, Michigan, and the State of Oregon.

The article below gives an excellent summary of local efforts:


Most strategies have focused on either de-prioritization or decriminalization rather than regulation. For example, the first law to begin the dismantling of  prohibition was passed in Denver in May, 2019. The law prohibits the City of Denver from spending any resources to prosecute people for use or possession of magic mushrooms. On September 6, 2022, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a measure calling  on police to consider entheogenic plants as “amongst the lowest priority” for penalties, and asks for city criminal justice resources to not be spent on individuals using psychedelics. The resolution also advocates for the decriminalization of entheogenic plant practices on a state and federal level.

Another reason for the seemingly quick path forward in the effort to decriminalize or deregulate psychedelics might be found in the growing acceptance within wide swaths of the medical community. Paul Tullis wrote in Nature, January 27, 2021, “And respected institutions such as Imperial; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland; the University of California, Berkeley; and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City have opened centres devoted to studying psychedelics. Several small studies suggest the drugs can be safely administered and might have benefits for people with intractable depression and other psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Of course, this acceptance can be a double-edged sword, with the looming threat of Big Pharma as a potential dominant player in the market.

Photo by Edmond Dantes/pexels.com

A proposed 2024 California ballot initiative being prepared by Decriminalize California states:

“Psilocybin Mushrooms. The personal, medical, therapeutic, religious, spiritual, and dietary use of Psilocybin Mushrooms by adults 21 years of age and over, including but not limited to the cultivation, manufacture, processing, production of Psilocybin Mushroom edible products and extracts (with or without solvents) derived from Psilocybin Mushrooms, distribution, transportation, possession, storage, consumption, social consumption, on-site consumption, public events, farmers’ markets, and retail sale, whether or not for profit, shall be lawful in this state and is a matter of statewide concern. Possession – Any private individual or California incorporated entity can possess an unlimited amount of magic mushrooms or psilocybin infused products.

Taxes – Psilocybin Mushrooms that are sold or grown for medical, therapeutic, religious, or spiritual purposes shall not be subject to any sales, use, or excise tax. Products labeled and sold as dietary supplements shall be taxed at the local sales tax rate at the point of sale.”

A passionate debate erupted in Colorado over State Proposition 122 which decriminalizes just psilocybin with possible expansion in 2026. Critics from Decriminalize Nature testified at the Boulder City Council meeting on October 20, 2022 about the reliance on limiting access to licensed therapy centers. While this certainly injects an element of safety and control, the consumers, patients, experts and professional therapists who spoke all warned of the potential for the psychedelic space to become dominated by “professional therapists” and large companies. Despite outraising opponents $3,938,646 to $936, the most recent poll shows 36% support, 41% opposition, with 23% undecided.

This article is a summary of the debate:


On the international front, Portugal, Brazil, Jamaica, and the Netherlands have also decriminalized, some, or all, drugs. Portugal, for example, decriminalized the public and private use, acquisition, and possession of all drugs in 2000.

Harm reduction through needle exchanges and greater treatment availability are among the reasons for the wide disparity in drug overdose deaths between the United States (with a staggering total of nearly 72,000 last year) and European countries like Portugal (which typically has well below 100 such deaths a year). These reflect a different mind-set on addiction; in Portugal, it’s treated strictly as a disease.

Looking at this from another perspective: Portuguese citizens own about 1.5 million guns (80% of which are carbines and shotguns in the hands of hunters and can only be used while hunting) with a population of 10.3 million. A law passed in 2019 requires these guns to be stored in a safe and limits the number of guns per owner. Portugal earned a Global Peace Index score (ranked by the Vision of Humanity) of 1.30. That makes it the sixth most peaceful place in the world, with less than 100 murders per year. By contrast, the United States ranks 129th with a 2.44 score with nearly 49,000 gun deaths per year.  Americans possess 393 million guns with a population of 326 million according to the most recent data.

So one could conclude in a broad sense that in Portugal drugs are legal and guns illegal. In our country, guns are legal and drugs illegal. The result is a worse outcome for the United States on both the drug and gun front.

Photo by © O’Dea at Wikimedia Commons

As a leader of one of the most active NORML chapters in California (CoCo NORML), I have invested hundreds of hours of my life in a roller-coaster ride to get a handful of our local cities to permit retail sales. Six years have come and gone since more than 60% of the voters in Contra Costa County (and California) approved Proposition 64. When I look at how little progress we have made in California as of October, 2022 (nearly six years after the passage of Proposition 64)), it is sobering to say the least.

  • In Contra Costa County, only 10 new dispensaries have opened in Antioch (4), Concord (3), Martinez (2) and Pacheco (1). Of the cities of Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda, and Moraga (where every precinct voted yes on Propostion 64), only one medical only delivery service is allowed in Walnut Creek.
  • As of 10/15/22, California (with an estimated 6.7 million cannabis consumers), has the following active licenses:
  • 7,548 cultivation
  • 1,243 distribution  + 187 transport only distribution
  • 1,075 retail storefront (dispensaries)
  • 465  non-retail (delivery services)
  • 380 microbusinesses
  • 48 testing labs
  • 66 event organizers
  • 61% of cities and counties allow no retail sales
  • While sales in the regulated market increased to $5.2 billion in 2021, illicit sales were even higher.
  • “California’s illegal market is estimated at $8 billion”, said Tom Adams, chief executive officer of research firm Global Go Analytics. “That’s roughly double the amount of legal sales, though some estimates are even larger.” California’s Marijuana Economy Threatened by Growing Illegal Market by Michael R. Blood, The Associated Press, 1/16/22.
  • Oklahoma has an estimated 2,000 licensed dispensaries, or one for every 2,000 of the 4 million residents, vs 1,000 for California, or one for every 40,000 of its 40 million people.

Perhaps simplicity is the best path forward. The successes and failures of the movements to treat both cannabis and psychedelics as medicine for the body and soul can instruct us in how to move forward. In Part II, we will explore how we got to where we are in the fall of 2022.

Greg Kemenliev has been one of the key leaders of Contra Costa NORML, first serving as Executive Director and currently serving as the chapter’s Deputy Director, now called CoCo NORML. Greg has represented the cannabis community for years, testifying before dozens of public bodies, including city and county councils, planning commissions, state legislative hearings and meetings with legislators and their staff in Sacramento. He has been an advocate of compassion programs, working closely with Jetty Extracts Shelter Program that provides free cannabis to cancer patients.