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Policy Brief in Support of the Illinois Compassionate Use of Natural Plants and Fungi Act

by Dermott Smith

August 2022


The traumatic impact of COVID 19 and the ongoing, systemic violence against

marginalized groups are just some of myriad reasons why mental health outcomes have

been in crisis recently. The mental healthcare infrastructure is incredibly strained, with

many more people needing mental healthcare than there are opportunities for

intervention. Illinoisians have the opportunity to expand their intervention options for

people suffering from trauma, isolation, malaise, and spiritual wounding. This policy

brief will argue for the adoption of the Illinois Compassionate Use of Natural Plants and

Fungi Act, legislation currently sponsored by Representative LaShawn Ford - IL 8th

District. This Act would create a regulatory framework for Illinoisians to safely and legally

consume plant and fungal medicine that have a rich tradition in cultures around the

world. The legislation has received the endorsement of a wide range of Illinoisians, such

mental health practitioners, harm reduction advocates, student groups, and veteran

advocacy groups.

Nearly every human society has used psychoactive plant and fungi material in a

healing capacity. For example, certain mushrooms containing the active ingredient

psilocybin have been widely consumed in religious contexts by Indigenous American

groups since antiquity. Currently, the Native American Church continues the tradition of

peyote ceremonies which are community rituals centered around dancing, chanting, and

drumming while consuming the peyote cactus, which contains the psychoactive drug

mescaline. Modern science reveals that many of these natural healing modalities

contain psychoactive chemicals that are popularly grouped together under the name

psychedelics or entheogens. Western scientific research into these substances has

rapidly expanded in the recent past, with many promising studies indicating that these

interventions can help people suffering from disorders such as anxiety, depression, and

addictions. Whether these substances are used for healing DSM-5 endorsed psychiatric

disorders or for spiritual healing, there is mounting evidence that lasting healing can be

achieved by the intentional, reverent, and safe consumption of these plants and fungi.

The Illinois Compassionate Use of Natural Plants and Fungi Act, in its current

iteration, would decriminalize the possession, use, cultivation, production, creation,

analysis, gifting, and delivery of natural plants and fungi. It would also establish the

Illinois Psilocybin Advisory Board to give guidance to the Department of Public Health

about the best practices around psilocybin use and future directions for treatment


Pre-existing policies

There are a wide variety of legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms used

to address entheogenic plant medicine use. Within the United States, differing policies

can be found at the federal, state, and local levels. Internationally, countries regulate

these substances in many different ways as well. At the federal level, most psychoactive

plant substances are scheduled by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

This scheduling prohibits the possession, cultivation, and use except within specific research or religious contexts. For example, the Native American Church was granted a religious exemption by the U.S. Supreme Court in order to practice their rich and

established spiritual tradition of consuming the peyote cactus, which contains the

Schedule I drug mescaline. Some research institutions in the U.S., such as Johns

Hopkins, Ohio State, and NYU, have been granted exceptions to study the effects of

these medicines, often examining their effects on behavioral disorders such as

depression. In order for participants to qualify for these research studies, they often

have to meet strict eligibility requirements and meet criteria for DSM-5 endorsed

disorders. At the federal level, religious freedom and research contexts are the only

ways that people can use plant medicine without fear of prosecution.

In 2020, Oregon became the first state to establish a new regulatory structure for

psilocybin use. Voters approved Ballot Measure 109, which directed the Oregon Health

Authority Public Health Division to regulate the manufacture, transportation, delivery,

sale, and purchase of psilocybin-containing products and the provision of psilocybin

services. Under this framework, licensed facilitators will be able to administer the

substance on site at regulated facilities, often with preparatory sessions and post-

administration sessions to increase the likelihood of therapeutic gains. Clients must be

21 years old or older and would not need a prescription or a medical referral. Providers

of state sanctioned psilocybin services would need to meet training requirements in

order to be licensed. Under Measure 109, providers are not allowed to advertise their

services as therapy. At present, Oregon is still gearing up for when the services are

legal in January 2023. Outcome research will be needed to see how well the regulatory framework ensures that patients are able to make informed choices about the services

they are looking for and that they remain safe.

Some local governments have also made changes to the way that these

substances are regulated. Examples of cities that have deprioritized psilocybin

enforcement are Oakland, Detroit, Denver, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. Cities have less

authority to create new regulatory regimes that would conflict with the state and federal

government. Rather, these cities have directed their police forces to de-prioritize

policing, arrest, and prosecution of psilocybin crimes.

Internationally, many policy frameworks exist around the regulation of psilocybin

and other plant medicines. The legal landscape in Canada has been shifting in recent

years, resulting in more people accessing psilocybin assisted psychotherapy legally.

Patients with mental health challenges such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety can

petition the Canadian federal government for a legal exemption to access psilocybin in

conjunction with therapy with a mental health clinician. Outside the therapeutic setting,

psilocybin exists in a legal gray area due to being decriminalized in many cities across

the country. Outside of North America, the cultivation, possession, and sale of

psychoactive plants and fungi is legal in some countries such as Brazil and Jamaica. In

both countries, retreat centers offer the opportunity for people to legally consume

various natural medicines such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, a traditional plant

combination that has been used in spiritual contexts in many parts of South and Central


Identification and critique of policy options

Illinoisans have options to choose from in regards to plant medicine regulation.

The state could continue its policy of near total prohibition and law enforcement. Under

prohibition, only a small number of people in research studies will have the opportunity

to access a safe supply of medicine and access to clinicians who can be held

responsible for maltreatment. As interest in plant medicine continues to grow, people

will continue to use in underground settings. It is well documented that people with

experiences of marginalization disproportionately bear the burden of drug enforcement

laws. For example, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds use drugs at similar

rates, but people of color are far more likely to be surveilled, arrested, and incarcerated

for drug sale and possession. While very few people are arrested for crimes related to

psilocybin and other plant medicines, the enforcement of prohibition will likely increase

as these medicines become more popular and accessible.

Decriminalization is another regulatory framework that could be adopted. Under

decriminalization, the possession, cultivation, and exchange of psychoactive plants and

fungi would not be prosecuted by law enforcement. Under most decriminalization

frameworks, this protection only extends to individuals, not businesses.

Decriminalization creates a substantial gray area. For example, mushroom dispensaries

are now openly operating (without business licenses) in some Canadian cities, similarly

to the cannabis dispensaries that popped up before full cannabis legalization.

Therapists, counselors, and spiritual leaders might face professional consequences for

incorporating plant medicine into their practices.

The medical model is another regulatory framework that could be adopted. The

most useful framework to compare with is how ketamine is regulated. Ketamine is a

dissociative anesthetic drug used in some therapy sessions. It produces profound

psychoactive effects at certain doses. Under the medical model, only licensed mental

health providers or medical clinicians are allowed to administer ketamine in conjunction

with therapy. This creates an incredibly high barrier for many seeking treatment. Private

ketamine clinics typically charge $400-$800 per session, making the treatment

inaccessible for many. One benefit to the medical model is that it offers protections for

clinicians and clients. Regulatory agencies can screen providers to ensure that they

have the proper training. Agencies can also investigate claims of abuse and hold

providers accountable.

The final framework to be considered in this analysis is Oregon’s Measure 109.

This framework blends decriminalization with parts of the medical model. In order for

providers to administer psilocybin legally, they must complete a training protocol and

have a background in some sort of counseling or chaplaincy field. Oregon will not

require a clinical license from these facilitators. Measure 109 is unlike the medical

model in that the services being provided cannot be considered therapy or used to treat

a specific mental health disorder. As noted earlier, there will be considerable research

needed to see whether this framework serves clients, providers, and the wider


Policy Recommendation

The Illinois Compassionate Use of Natural Plants and Fungi Act would benefit

Illinoisians who are in need of a more holistic approach to mental healthcare and spiritual

wellness. Under this policy, the cultivation, possession, use, and gifting of natural plants

and fungi would be decriminalized. This would allow Illinoisians to access this healing

modality as practiced by people across the globe before drug prohibition regimes

removed people from their spiritual traditions. This would lower the barriers to access

that Illinoisians face when they try to access this type of healing through the research or

medical models. The Illinois Compassionate Use of Natural Plants and Fungi Act would

also establish the Illinois Psilocybin Advisory Board, which would empower policy

makers to have access to cutting edge research and best policy practices. The

guidance of this multi-disciplinary and diverse coalition will be vital to ensure that Illinois

has the proper infrastructure in place should it decide to license providers and to

regulate the provision of psilocybin services. These services will be a much needed

option to Illinoisians seeking alternative options to the struggling mental health care

system currently in place.

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