In October 2018, a former chief of staff to the Oakland City Council president named Carlos Plazola, unaware of Stamets’ advice, took what he calls a “heroic dose” of psilocybin mushrooms, then asked his cousin to lock him in his bedroom for five hours.
Luckily, Plazola had the best possible outcome: a life-changing trip. “There was before, and there was after,” he says now. His immediate epiphany: “This needs to be available to people who suffer from trauma and self-annihilating thoughts.” Unlike most ‘shroomers, he had City Hall connections.
More lucky still, then, that last December Plazola hooked up with a so-called “sacred garden,” a ‘shroom-friendly group in Oakland that included some old friends of Stamets’. Together, they talked about how they would pitch decriminalization to the City Council. Caution, Stamets-style small doses and education were emphasized. Plazola read up on Stamets.
In January, Plazola became co-founder of a new pressure group, Decriminalize Nature Oakland. The same month Stamets spoke at Lightning in a Bottle they swayed city officials during a hearing at City Hall, winning the attention of a packed house.
“They were not a bunch of hippies; they were doctors, lawyers, nurses, scientists,” says Plazola. He’d chosen the timing just right: Not only had the success of Oakland’s cannabis industry helped pave the way, but Denver — the OG legal pot city — had just narrowly voted to decriminalize mushrooms via a similarly loosely Stamets-connected campaign. (The election had happened the week of Stamets’ Lightning in a Bottle talk, lending the affair the air of a victory celebration.)
Oakland City Council was predisposed to agree — and in Trump-era California, the time was right to do something bold and progressive. Councilperson Noel Gallo, a friend of Plazola’s, promptly introduced a motion to direct police resources away from chasing down federally illegal psilocybin.
“Growing up in the streets of East Oakland, Mexican families couldn’t afford Walgreens,” Gallo recalls. “My grandmother was a healer. She had native plants that helped you with the flu. It always worked for us.” (Indeed, Tamiflu is made with the acid found in oyster mushrooms). Gallo also has a nephew who went to Iraq and needs medication for his anxiety.
It was time, the police chief agreed. Gallo was taken aback. “I thought I was going to get a stronger negative reaction,” he says. The motion passed in June. Now Gallo is in the second stage of the process, where he and other council members talk about how Oakland can implement its newfound respect for a plant that may be more powerful, and more versatile, than marijuana.
“Down the line, in a few years, our dispensaries may not just be for cannabis,” Gallo says. “They are places that meet physical and spiritual needs.”