In Ann Arbor, Mich., entheogens and fungi rule. The city, which last year decriminalized the use of entheogens, has declared the month of September Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Awareness Month, with special ceremonies scheduled for Sept. 19.
It’s a move that’s becoming more and more common around the country since Denver made possession of magic mushrooms its lowest law-enforcement priority in 2019. Ann Arbor went a step further with last year’s proclamation making the possession of all natural entheogenic substances (which can change people’s consciousness for spiritual or religious purposes), like ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin and mushrooms, the lowest police priority. (Synthetic substances like LSD are not covered.) Washtenaw County followed suit with its own resolution on Jan. 12, and now council members have approved a proclamation that makes September the month to celebrate and better understand the role mushrooms and entheogens play in our lives.
“The Ann Arbor City council calls upon our citizens, government agencies, public and private institutions, and businesses, to commit to increasing the awareness and understanding of the potential benefits of entheogens for mental health, personal and spiritual growth, as well as honoring the long standing ancestral practices and relationships with entheogens,” the resolution states.
The movement to decriminalize psychedelic substances began a couple of years ago after a friend of Anne Bannister, then an Ann Arbor City Council member, attended an event on the University of Michigan campus about psychedelics being used in mental health treatment situations. Decriminalize Nature, which is based in Oakland, Calif., but has had a robust Ann Arbor chapter, began sending council members reports and testimonials about the continuing research.
“I’ve lived in Ann Arbor most of my life, and we’re the home of the Hash Bash,” Bannister told The News Station.
“There were a couple of naysayers at first,” she said, including one member who felt September was an inappropriate time since it was also addiction recovery month. “But they fell in line, and council passed it unanimously.”
“This happens often with us,” she added. “We took it to police and prosecutors, and they said it already was a low priority.”
Ann Arbor has a reputation as a progressive place, and it has always been a little left leaning. The Hash Bash has been a fixture since the first one was held in 1972 as a protest against the arrest of activist John Sinclair for a couple of joints — even if today it’s more ceremonial since recreational marijuana is legal in the state.
“It’s the first anniversary of decriminalizing psychedelics, and Sept. 20 is Global Psilocybin Day,” Jule Barron, a therapist, head of the Michigan Psychedelic Society and one of the organizers, explained about how September was chosen.
Barron says the whole thing got started in April when the city was approached by what turned out to be a bogus PR stunt promoting psychedelics. Council then reached out to the Psychedelic Society.
“It’s kinda funny how it happened, but you know, sometimes things happen,” Barron said.
“They said, ‘Listen… would you like to turn this into something that would work for us in our community and that is appropriate for us?’” Barron said. “And I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to do that,’ and I rewrote the resolution to fit the communication.”
A physical therapist who originally studied at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., Barron was trained to work with non-ordinary states of consciousness from the start, she explained. “And I happened to have had really impactful experiences with psychedelics throughout my whole life, starting, you know, as a teenager.”
She began dedicating her own practice to psychedelic integration and preparation about 10 years ago, and started the Michigan Psychedelic Society after noticing that people needed education and resources about studies and the continuing research into psychedelics. The society is busy working with the cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids and East Lansing to pass similar measures, and hopes to get a statewide initiative on the ballot soon.
“We morphed from Ann Arbor to Michigan because we wanted to go statewide,” Barron said.
Leaders from Decriminalize Nature Oakland, where the group got started, will be coming in for the Sept. 19 festivities taking place on the steps of Hatcher Graduate Library on the University of Michigan campus from 11:11 a.m. to 2:22 p.m. William Pickard, the chemist arrested and finally released from prison for his work on psychedelic substances, and Michigan state Sen. Jeff Irwin will be among the speakers. The main keynote will come from Barking Dog Darryl Brown, a painter and indigenous civil rights and political leader, who will be talking about sustainability, climate change and making psychedelics accessible to those who need them.
The overriding concern of the month-long celebration and event is trying to remove the questions that still hang over psychedelics, City Councilman Jeff Hayner, who voted for the proposal, told The News Station. “We are really trying to get rid of the stigma. It’s not that we want the pharmaceutical companies to take over. But we know there are clinical uses, and studies have shown that they might be able to help psychologists as an alternative in mental health solutions.”
And the festival? “We hope it will be recurring,” he said.