Highlights from the Ann Arbor City Council Meeting
For better or for worse, things have certainly changed in 2020. This new world requires masks in public, shows Broadway Musicals on Disney+, and sees city council meetings held on Zoom. On September 21st of 2020, the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan broadcast their city council meeting to the public. The online platform wasn’t the only thing unique about this meeting, as the ground-breaking motion to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms was at the forefront of the agenda.
The People of Michigan Wanted Psilocybin Decriminalized
The meeting opened with public comments from citizens of Ann Arbor. Therapists, mental health professionals, and social workers came forward to express their support for the decriminalization of psilocybin. Members of the public saw this as an opportunity to join the forefront of psychedelic research, as well as propelling the activist movement forward. More than one caller said that this resolution would place Ann Arbor “on the right side of history.”
These citizens cited the other cities in The United States that had already decriminalized psilocybin, Denver, Colorado in particular. On May 7th, 2019, Ordinance 301 successfully passed, deprioritizing the use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms by the police department. Since then, Denver has seen minimal levels of arrests or crimes related to psilocybin.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had so many medical professionals come to the meeting and speak in favour of something. I really appreciate everyone’s work in this area.” councilmember Anne Bannister said.
Bringing Forward Ann Arbor’s “DC-2 Resolution”
Nearly 100 American cities have considered decriminalizing psilocybin and other psychedelics, including ayahuasca and mescaline. Ann Arbor’s DC-2 resolution is among the first of its kind, setting for other cities to cite should they too choose to pursue decriminalization. The councilmembers shouldered this responsibility tactfully.
Ward 1 city councilmember Jeff Hayner read the resolution. He and fellow Ward 1 councilmember Anne Bannister co-sponsored the resolution, with members Ali Ramlawi and Kathy Griswold joining to co-sponsor by the end of the discussion. This motion resolved to move the investigation into the individuals arrested for the personal use or possession of entheogenic plants to the lowest priority.
The intent of the resolution was to decriminalize, allowing for personal use and research, as well as to remove the stigma surrounding entheogens. But the wording was very clear: this resolution did not endorse the recreational use of psilocybin. It was not an attempt to create a tourist or commercial climate in Ann Arbor.
The councilmembers acknowledged that decriminalization is a harm reduction strategy. By reducing a climate of fear and anxiety, those using psilocybin will be less likely to engage in dangerous, illicit activities. They may feel more open to come forward for help when it is needed and engage in open dialogue surrounding the drugs’ harms and misuses. This motion puts trust in the self-agency of adults regarding drug use for medical, spiritual, or religious benefits.
Not an Effortlessly Unanimous Vote
Zachary Ackerman admitted to avoiding this topic earlier in his term as a council member. He has formed a new opinion since doing his own research, stating that, “you really only need to spend about 15 minutes with the modern research on psychedelic medicine to realize that this is a serious topic with potentially serious benefits.” He still believes that “medicalization is the much more responsible route to normalization, rather than decriminalization,” but supported the motion nevertheless. “Any future council should be very wary of moves to make these substances recreational,” He warns.
First to speak up was Ann Arbor Police Chief Cox. He believed that this motion reflected the reality of what he was seeing on the streets. Cox also acknowledged that caution should be considered when shifting the burden of responsibility from individuals committing crimes to the officers enforcing the law. Councilmember Jane Lumm agreed, stating the importance of wording in motions such as this one so as not to hinder the investigations of more serious crimes due to ambiguous wording in a motion of decriminalization. She is still not comfortable with dictating to officers which laws should be high- or low-priority. She would rather lobby to have the laws themselves changed.
These council members did not decriminalize entheogens lightly. Each did their own personal research, reflecting on their own biases, before addressing the topic at the meeting. This has been a lengthy conversation in Ann Arbor, and is a valuable example of how conversations on psychedelic uses and laws in North America should be addressed.
Ann Arbor Joins Other American Cities in California and Colorado
Councilmember Ami Ramlawi brought to light the difficult complications faced with drug laws in America. “It’s unfortunate that that’s how drug policies work in America. It’s what makes more money: criminalizing it or advancing the medical benefits of it. Whether it’s this or marijuana, we see a shift in American policy now, with drugs. There was much more money to be made with the criminalization of these drugs, and now there’s a realization of the profit to be made [with medicinal use]. It’s unfortunate, there have been a lot of people who have been caught in the crossfire, and are serving time and had their lives ruined in the process,” he says.
The other three cities to decriminalize entheogenic plants, including psilocybin mushrooms, are Oakland and Santa Cruz, California, and Denver, Colorado. Since decriminalizing last year, all three cities boast minimal to zero reports of incidents around entheogens and police involvement. This includes cases of driving under the influence, drug use in schools, or any arrests of disorderly individuals under the influence of these substances.
The motion was proposed and unanimously approved. The council then moved on to discuss street closures during times of physical distancing, as though a monumental historic moment had not just occurred in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Carissa is a writer, painter, and actor in Toronto, Ontario. An alumnus of both McMaster University and Centennial College, she channels her creativity into everything she writes with an active intention to connect people through her writing.