Decriminalize Nature

Advocating for Legal and Healthy Relationships With Plants


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This June, Oakland voted to decriminalize possession and use of entheogenic plants and fungi. Driving advocacy to City Hall, Decriminalize Nature Oakland started with a group of about 12 activists meeting every other weekend. The small team joined forces with various folks from the Sacred Garden community, where sacred plant growth and education are hosted.

As everyone was introduced, Carlos Plazola, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature Oakland (DNO), mentioned he worked for the City Council for seven years in the early 2000s, and encouraged that if they wanted to bring psychedelics to the table and work toward decriminalization, he would be happy to help. They pressed onward, and a group of four people out of the original 12 founded the official DNO. A couple of months would pass and DNO would become a 501c4 non-profit.

Decriminalize Nature
Photo by Larry Norris

“We were scheduled for a public safety committee, and the speed we were moving caught us by surprise,” says Plazola. In June decriminalization passed with a unanimous vote. Now, Oakland has decriminalized Psilocybin mushrooms, Iboga, Ayahuasca and cacti. “It was almost as if there were greater forces at work moving this thing forward at light speed and we are just trying to keep up with the whole momentum,” says Plazola.

Since June, DNO has worked to put together an education framework called the Oakland Framework for Urban Education on Entheogenic Plants; it’s a nine-page document that lays out the risks involved in consuming each plant and fungi. “It was very important to get unanimous support because Oakland is so diverse [that] we didn’t want to leave any of the communities out,” says Plazola. The feedback from council members and the community has been positive thus far.

The day before our interview with Plazola, DNO presented their work at a movie screening for the residents of “Tent City.” It was mostly communities of color who were rallying together to educate people on the rise of homelessness in Oakland. It is the African American community who are experiencing the steepest rise in homelessness in the community. DNO presented there to build a bridge between healing plants and the unhoused community of Oakland.

Decriminalize Nature
Photo by Larry Norris

“The causes of homelessness include, mental illness, anxiety, PTSD, fear, unhealthy personal narrative, [etc] though those are not the illnesses of the unhoused,” explains Plazola. “Those are the illnesses of a society that would allow people to go without the care that [they] need therefore, they become unhoused.” The lesson of the plant is to teach that society is problematic and to shift mindset, so people have and share love and compassion. DNO shares emerging scientific evidence which suggests that these plants help aid those suffering from PTSD, anxiety, addiction and depression.

“Tomorrow if everyone on planet earth had an ayahuasca journey or a mushroom journey I think the 2020 election would be a more compassion-based election,” suggested Plazola.

When the state legalized cannabis, it created a new taxation and regulatory structure distinct from other crops, which continue to confound growers and other entities in the cannabis community. “This drove up pricing and some people out of the market, which is making it difficult for low-income people to get into the market: producers and consumers,” emphasizes Plazola.

Hurdles of legality in cannabis is an example for the psychedelic community to realize there doesn’t need to be some complex regulatory framework. Solely decriminalizing and allowing interactions with these plants and fungi to be more personal with home growth and local education structures will allow for non-criminal relationships with plants and fungi to develop.

Upon development, there will be applications for production facilities. “We already have regulatory frameworks for that,” explains Plazola. Agriculture is set up to house such plants and fungi as effectively as we grow any other crop.

For DOPE readers who want to push for equitable access and decriminalization of entheogenic plants and fungi in their city or town, please visit DNO’s website and send them an email.

Ashleigh Castro

Ashleigh Castro is a New York seed grown in the California sunshine. A photographer by nature, she developed while capturing peace rallies in San Francisco and snapping shots of musicians. She started at DOPE taking photos for DOPE Magazine as it launched in Northern California in 2015. Aesthetically, her favorite medium to shoot in is film such as 35mm and medium format. Since she studied journalism, she put her DOPEn to the paper and started writing stories about healing family through cannabis, sustainably sourced edibles and consciously created local products. Having developed obscure food allergies caused by histamine intolerance, she applies cannabis to alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain, inflammation and the anxieties surrounding food intolerance. Now managing the NorCal office as well as the area’s content, you can find her on the scene with the DOPE squad or roller skating in the Bay Area’s scenic spots. Her greatest joy working at DOPE is being able to help found a Dream Team of talent and style.

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