Psychedelics may become lowest enforcement priority in Jefferson County

Resolution would ‘right a historical wrong’

PORT TOWNSEND — Certain psychedelic plants may become the lowest law-enforcement priority in Jefferson County next week, following a resolution from the Board of County Commissioners.

At their regular meeting Monday, the three commissioners discussed a draft resolution that would make psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca and cacti containing mescaline — collectively referred to as “entheogens” — among the county’s lowest priorities for law enforcement.

Commissioners will discuss and potentially pass the final resolution at their next meeting.

Dozens of people gave public comments urging passage of the resolution, saying that such psychedelic drugs have been shown to be effective in medical contexts, particularly for the treatment of mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The resolution would, “right a historical wrong by decriminalizing plants and fungi that can heal invisible wounds,” said Juan Carlos, a member of the Port Townsend Psychedelic Society, which has lobbied the state Legislature for the decriminalization of entheogens.

Commissioners were largely supportive of the goals of the resolution but voiced some concerns about the role of county government in such a discussion. Ultimately, a decision about decriminalization and possible legalization of entheogens will be made by the state Legislature, said District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean, but the county can add its voice to the conversation.

“We have a lane in this, and we can find a way to work in our lane,” Dean said.

District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton said he had concerns about telling the county sheriff and prosecuting attorney — who are also elected officials — how to do their jobs.

Both Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole and Prosecuting Attorney James Kennedy were present at Monday’s meeting and said they had concerns about ignoring the laws of the state.

“I took an oath of office to enforce the laws of the State of Washington,” Nole said. “Law enforcement needs to abide by the rules. This applies to laws I agree with or not. When law enforcement starts picking and choosing which laws they’re going to enforce, I think that’s a slippery slope.”

Kennedy echoed that concern and added that entheogens already do not come up often in his work.

“Entheogens seem to be something different that don’t cause me concern from a law enforcement or community care perspective,” Kennedy said, noting that entheogens are not often involved in impaired driving cases or other crimes.

Presented with the possibility of entheogens being the lowest law-enforcement priority in the county, Kennedy said: “I think it already is.”

Kennedy noted that, since the 2021 state Supreme Court decision in State v. Blake, which made simple possession of controlled substances a misdemeanor, the county has not prosecuted anyone for possession of drugs.

A bill to decriminalize entheogens at the state level was unable to pass this legislative session — which ended Sunday — but commissioners said they were willing to advocate for the change in future sessions.

Commissioners said they would reword the draft resolution, potentially removing language stating the county “would like to see a future where no county funds or resources” are used for the enforcement of laws related to entheogens and references to the War on Drugs, which Kennedy said was beyond the scope of the resolution.

Several cities across the country, including both Port Townsend and Seattle in 2021, passed similar resolutions, and the state of Oregon and Colorado have decriminalized entheogens, with Oregon legalizing them for medical uses.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has been studying the use of entheogens for psychological treatment since 2000, and in 2022 the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it had conducted studies in psychedelic treatments for PTSD and depression.

Even with their concerns, commissioners said they were supportive of the resolution.

“This has been one of the most meaningful conversations in my time as county commissioner,” District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said. “I look forward to continuing to support our community. I’m personally supportive of that path forward.”

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

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