GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As soon as potentially this fall, Grand Rapids could become the latest jurisdiction to de-prioritize possession, cultivation and use of entheogenic plants and fungi.
In layman’s terms: you won’t get arrested for having, using, growing or gifting psychedelics.
“This isn’t a decriminalization per say; it’s de-prioritization,” said Grand Rapids City Commissioner Kurt Reppart. “It’s allowing for what’s called the 'grow, gift, gather' model… outside of that, the rest of this is illegal.”
Reppart is in full support of making psychedelics the lowest priority on law enforcement’s radar. He thinks not only will the move save resources on their end but also acknowledges the plants and fungi can be powerful medicines for constituents using them to treat a range of ailments, from post-traumatic stress, to addiction, depression, anxiety and end-of-life suffering.
If decriminalization becomes a reality, psilocybic mushrooms, cacti that contains mescalin… ayahuasca, and ibogaine would all be low priority on law enforcement's radar.
Decriminalize Nature Grand Rapids — a local chapter of a national group that seeks to destigmatize and decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi nationwide — has been working with Reppart to bring a measure up for a vote in the city.
“We are a movement that is fighting for the regular person to be able to heal themselves,” said Chad Beyer, founder and board member of DNGR. “We’re not asking for a carte blanche where you can do anything with these medicines… decriminalization is really risk reduction because there are already many people in this city, as well as across the country, who are using these medicines.”
“These drugs are not addictive; you can’t overdose on them, so it just seems reasonable to look into cures using these,” said Mary Reed Kelly, another founder and board member of DNGR. “We’re asking that we try this and that we look into these resources and don’t just stick with what we’ve been doing, because obviously we haven’t gotten that right.”
Grand Rapids has one of the highest rates of depression in the country, and DNGR thinks taking heat off those who want to try this alternative to expensive and potentially dangerous opioids and antidepressants could help.
“We don’t want people who are finding healing with these medicines to be driven underground,” said Beyer, who was diagnosed five years ago with spinocerebellar ataxia, an incurable neurological disease that he’s used psilocybin mushrooms to treat in the past.
“People experience their own divinity, which means that they experience oneness and connection with other people and the planet,” said Beyer. “It’s quite amazing; I’m no longer afraid of dying.”
“There’s kind of a growing interest in destigmatization of mental health in general,” said Luke Johnson, another of DNGR’s board members. “They are drugs; they have drug effects, but I think it’s important to emphasize the idea that these are medicines.”
In recent years, academia has hopped on board. Studies at Johnson’s alma mater University of Chicago, Yale, Johns Hopkins, University of California – Berkeley, and even the FDA have facilitated several studies on the potential medical benefits of entheogenic plants and fungi.
“The FDA even has designated psylocibin, for instance, as a breakthrough therapy for depression,” said Kelly.
Other parts of the country are considering similar measures, and so are other parts of Michigan. In September 2020, Ann Arbor took the step as a city to decriminalize possession, use and growth of the plants, and shortly after, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced he wouldn’t prosecute any cases of possession, use or growth. Thus, the cases were de-prioritized by law enforcement.
“That basically means that if a law enforcement officer in Ann Arbor sees somebody crossing the street the wrong way, and across the street they see somebody with mushrooms, they have to go after the person for crossing the street,” said Savit. “It’s just not something that we see the need to channel our very scarce criminal justice resources towards.”
Reppart says Grand Rapids police are already operating under that same principle, so the law’s passage would just codify their policy as it already exists.
“People are leveraging these medicines for healing now,” said Reppart. “This is another pathway for people to experience healing from these difficult things.”