Oregon voters in November 2020 passed Measure 109, which legalizes psychedelic mushrooms in service facilities for purposes that include treatment for those 21 and older suffering from certain ailments, including psychological trauma and addiction. (Photo by Getty Images via Canva)

Local voters may have a decision to make in November on whether or not psilocybin-related operations should be prohibited within the Philomath city limits.

During its July 11 regular meeting, the Philomath City Council listened to information from its legal team on the topic and plans to review its options at a second meeting later this month.

Oregon voters in November 2020 passed Measure 109, which legalizes psychedelic mushrooms in service facilities for purposes that include treatment for those 21 and older suffering from certain ailments, including psychological trauma and addiction.

Psilocybin is the psychoactive ingredient in what are commonly referred to as “magic mushrooms.” Oregon is the first state to legalize psilocybin use. The measure does not allow for retail sales.

City Attorney Jim Brewer told councilors that they basically have three options:

• A permanent ban on psilocybin services, which would require voter approval on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. The city would need to submit the measure to the Benton County Elections Office by Aug. 19. The Oregon Health Authority is not required to establish its final rules until Dec. 31, so unknowns would exist at the time of voting.

• A two-year moratorium on psilocybin services, which would also require voter approval. The primary purpose of a moratorium would be to have time to adopt time, place and manner restrictions of some kind, Brewer said, or to wait and see if OHA rules end up being sufficient for Philomath.

• Take no action and allow psilocybin to be regulated by the state.

The Oregon Psilocybin Services section of OHA will start accepting applications for licenses on Jan. 2, 2023. The OHA will have four types of licenses — manufacturer, laboratory, facilitator and service center.

Brewer said that ranked choice voting could be a possibility on the November ballot, but that requires a minimum of three options. If that’s not possible, the council would need to make a decision on what to put on the ballot — permanent ban or two-year moratorium.

The general consensus among councilors appeared to be leaning toward a two-year moratorium and David Low made a motion in favor of that option. The council approved the motion, 6-1, but all options remain on the table as possibilities, Brewer said.

“The reason that I’m in favor of the two-year moratorium is it gives us a chance to see what the final rules are, evaluate how they apply to Philomath and then come up with manner, place and time and those other types of restrictions that I’m assuming we’re going to eventually want to have and then refer that to the voters,” Councilor Matt Lehman said.

In the case of a moratorium, Deputy City Attorney Catherine Pratt, said that after it sunsets in two years, “we would just be pursuant to state law unless we decided to either add a chapter to our municipal code or amend certain portions of it about siting so it would be re-evaluated by referring the question to the voters again.”

Councilor Teresa Nielson appeared to be favoring a permanent ban with the desire to just stall the process while also having the fear that the moratorium would sunset and the city could ultimately find itself in an undesirable position.

A permanent ban vote could go on the November 2024 ballot. If approved, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2025.

Pratt defined the moratorium as “basically just a pause on the city implementing a ban or allowing these facilities to be sited there, so for all intents and purposes, though, it is a two-year ban because under the state and federal law and state law outside of these specific facilities, psilocybin is still a controlled substance.”

As such, controlled substance laws would apply.

Whatever direction the council decides, it needs to reach a decision in quick order with the upcoming elections office deadline.

The City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for July 25. If councilors cannot come to a unanimous decision, a second reading vote would be required. As such, an emergency meeting could be needed to make sure the city meets the Aug. 19 elections office deadline.

In other news out of the July 13 meeting:

• The board on a unanimous vote adopted recommendations for updating the comprehensive plan’s chapter on economics. The council approved two policy language revisions before the final vote. An adoption ordinance is expected to go before councilors at their next meeting. There were no comments during a public hearing on the issue.  

• Nathan Conroy, venture catalyst for Linn and Benton counties with RAIN (Regional Accelerator & Innovation Network), spoke to the council during the public comments period with highlights from the organization. Maureen Nikaido, who owns Moku Chocolate, accompanied Conroy and added comments about her experiences with RAIN.

• The council worked through language updates and passed two motions to recommend amendments to the Inclusivity Committee’s goals and objectives. The council had asked the committee to establish the document earlier this year.

• The council on a unanimous vote reaffirmed a resolution proclaiming inclusivity in the city following discussion and language amendments.

• The city’s repeal of an ordinance that established a general fund fee in 2017 became official on a unanimous vote.

• The council unanimously approved a resolution to establish a heritage tree program in the city, a proposal that originated with Planning Commissioner Giana Bernardini. An ad-hoc committee was formed and discussed the goals and objectives with city staff and the Public Works Committee also reviewed the program. City Councilor Catherine Biscoe suggested that the council as a whole nominate an oak tree near Philomath Community Library to be the first to receive the recognition.

• The council met in executive session for close to 40 minutes to discuss real estate-related issues. The councilors came back into open session with no discussion or motions and Mayor Chas Jones adjourned the meeting.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.