Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Friday ordered police to back off from enforcing laws banning the possession and use of a number of naturally derived psychedelic drugs.
In an executive order supported by Police Chief Brian O'Hara and hailed by advocates for increased acceptance of hallucinogens for their potential benefits, Frey ordered the city's police and regulators to make such laws their "lowest law enforcement priority."
In other words, for users who are otherwise following the law, the cops are supposed to leave you alone.
"I'm fairly certain there are a number of other incidents around the city that would require the assistance of an officer more than that," Frey said in an interview.
The mayor added: "I'm not saying, go out there and take shrooms. I'm saying the science backs the argument that this is an important tool in the toolkit for depression, trauma, [post-traumatic stress disorder] and some of the deaths of despair that we're seeing out there."
The substances remain illegal, and certain activities — such as driving under the influence, commercially manufacturing such drugs or handing them out on school grounds — will still be subject to police enforcement under Frey's order.
Many experts caution against experimenting with hallucinogens, which do pose hazards.
But the order is broad and appears to direct Minneapolis police not to assist federal authorities if they're planning to make a raid to seize relatively small amounts of mescaline within city limits.
Why is this happening?
It's part of a national trend and has some bipartisan support. So far, such steps have been taken only in predominantly liberal areas; Denver, San Francisco, Detroit, Seattle and the state of Oregon are among the jurisdictions with similarly permissive measures.
This year, a bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators successfully pushed for the creation of a task force exploring the possible legalization of psychedelics for medicinal use.
In campaigns similar to those used for the marijuana legalization movement, proponents push a constellation of arguments both scientific and cultural:
- Numerous scientific studies have shown that some of these compounds, under some circumstances, can help treat a host of conditions ranging from PTSD to drug addiction. Removing the stigma is said to be crucial to both research and eventual use of the drugs.
- The war on drugs has had disparate effects on communities of color, and these drugs are no exception — a racial justice argument.
- Indigenous peoples, including some American Indians, have traditionally used some of the plants, such as mescaline-containing peyote, for spiritual purposes. So there's a religious freedom element as well.
Frey said that destigmatizing the drugs was an important part of his thinking. He also noted that the order, which took effect Friday, doesn't amount to a sea change for local police.
"It's not like we were prioritizing this before, either," he said.
Frey's order covers compounds derived from "entheogenic" plants and fungi — a term that describes naturally growing flora that can cause alterations in mood or perception.
They include "indole amines, tryptamines and phenethylamines." The list isn't limited to psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca tea, mescaline and iboga, according to the order.
That doesn't cover every psychedelic drug, including synthetic drugs that have long been in use. LSD or "acid," ketamine and ecstasy — also known as molly or MDMA — remain a priority target of Minneapolis law enforcement.
Promises and risks
The family of substances is generally not addictive and the risk of deadly overdoses is seen as low, though they haven't been approved as safe or effective by the Food and Drug Administration.
In recent years, studies from reputable institutions published in some of the top peer-reviewed medical journals have shown potential breakthroughs in treating a range of conditions that have vexed scientists for years, from smoking cessation to treating PTSD in combat veterans, with psychedelics.
However, health experts caution that such studies are conducted in controlled environments with controlled doses of specific compounds. Depending on the compound, certain people often won't be accepted into a study because of risks. For example, people with a family history of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are generally not accepted for trials involving psilocybin, the compound found in psychoactive mushrooms.
"Use of psychedelics can pose short-term and long-term risks, including hallucinogen use disorder and other mental health related risks," according to a position statement last year by the American Psychiatric Association.
Five researchers, including three doctors at the Mayo Clinic, published a report in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences last year that read, in part: "While preliminary findings on psychedelics are encouraging, current evidence is still insufficient to support extensive use of these drugs routinely. Long-term safety and efficacy of these compounds remain unclear, and several clinical trials are underway and may add clarity to these questions."