Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice

42 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2019 Last revised: 23 Sep 2019

See all articles by Dustin Marlan

Dustin Marlan

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: August 15, 2019


Psychedelics are powerful psychoactive substances which alter consciousness and brain function. Like cannabis, psychedelics have long been considered prohibited Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. However, via the powerful psychological experiences they induce, psychedelics are now being shown to be viable therapeutic alternatives in treating depression, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses, and even to enhance the well-being of healthy individuals. In May 2019, Denver, Colorado became the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin (the active compound in “magic mushrooms”) — a potential major shift in the War on Drugs. Ballot initiatives for the decriminalization of psilocybin and similar substances are now reaching voters in other cities and states. What principles might justify this decriminalization — eliminating criminal penalties for, at a minimum, the use and possession — of psilocybin and other psychedelics? This Article provides background on psychedelics and a historic overview of the laws surrounding them. It then considers several potential justifications for decriminalizing psychedelics: (1) medical value; (2) religious freedom; (3) cognitive liberty; and (4) identity politics. Lastly, the Article proposes a reframed justification rooted in principles of social justice, namely neurodiversity.

Keywords: psychedelics, cannabis, marijuana, psilocybin, magic mushrooms, DMT, LSD, ayahuasca, decriminalization, legalization, war on drugs, drug law reform, neuroscience, neurodiversity, social justice, bias, alternative medicine, religious freedom, cognitive liberty, freedom of thought, RFRA

Suggested Citation

Marlan, Dustin, Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice (August 15, 2019). Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Dustin Marlan (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
United States

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