Jefferson County de-prioritizes psychedelics

Commissioners state support for decriminalization

PORT TOWNSEND — Entheogens — certain psychedelic plants often used for medical or spiritual purposes — are the lowest law enforcement priority in Jefferson County, following a unanimous vote from the Board of County Commissioners.

The three commissioners debated the issue at their meeting last week and passed a slightly reworded resolution Monday stating support for the decriminalization of entheogens at the state level and asking that no county resources be spent on the enforcement of laws related to their safe use, cultivation or possession.

Several members of the public, many of them affiliated with the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society, gave testimony Monday morning, encouraging commissioners to pass the resolution.

Entheogens include psychedelic plants including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and cacti containing mescaline, which many commentators said were helpful in the treatment of mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The resolution passed Monday stated the county’s support for decriminalization of entheogens at the state and federal level and committed to putting the matter on the county’s 2024 legislative agenda.

Commissioners noted the county has no power to decriminalize the substances but said they could direct county agencies to de-prioritize entheogens within the criminal justice system.

At last week’s meeting, Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy and Sheriff Joe Nole expressed apprehension at being instructed to ignore the laws of the state which they both had taken oaths to support. Kennedy noted that entheogens rarely came up in his work and suggested the substances were already effectively among the county’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean said attitudes are changing toward entheogens, and the county was showing its support for the shift in thinking.

“Some would say this is performative, but I think it’s OK to be putting that stake in the ground, knowing that this is going to transform how a lot of mental health is done,” Dean said.

There was some discussion over whether or not to support the legalization of entheogens versus simple decriminalization. Legalization would open the door to commercialization of the substances, which some commentators said would increase their costs and potentially make them unobtainable for low-income people.

District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton noted that legalization of marijuana was more effective in de-stigmatizing that substance, and that legalization would likely be more of a priority for lawmakers.

“I can guarantee that legalization and commercialization is the path that will get more bandwidth in the Legislature,” Brotherton said.

Dean noted the Legislature had recently failed to pass a law regarding drug possession in the state, which had been made into a misdemeanor in Washington following the state Supreme Court’s Blake decision in 2020. However, the law passed in the wake of the Blake decision is set to expire on July 1, and if the Legislature — which ended its session April 23 — does not pass another law before then, all drugs will be effectively decriminalized in the state.

The Legislature may be called into a special session to address the issue, but Dean said there appeared to be little consensus among lawmakers on how to proceed.

Without action from the Legislature, “there will not be a statewide regulation and many different jurisdictions will then create their own, creating a patchwork of regulations. We are prepared to do that,” Dean said. “If we are in a position of taking action locally, does this create any conflict? I don’t think that it does.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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