The Ann Arbor City Council voted on decriminalizing the use of entheogenic plants — plants with a psychoactive substance, such as mushrooms —  and discussed potentially meeting with the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents to talk about emergency shelter for Ann Arbor in a meeting on Monday.

To begin the meeting, many public commenters urged the council to approve the resolution to decriminalize entheogenic plants. The resolution would declare arresting and investigating individuals for using or possessing entheogenic plants to be “the lowest priority for the City of Ann Arbor.”

Rackham student Nicolas Glynos, a Ph.D. candidate in molecular integrative physiology, began by noting how this resolution brings to light many historical notions of stigma surrounding entheogenic plants.

“This resolution is exciting because it brings into question a decade’s long blanket drug policy that has only initiated a destructive war on drugs and perpetuated a stigma around plants and compounds that have proven to be extremely safe and tolerable relative to other legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco,” Glynos said.

Julia Baron, executive director of Decriminalized Nature Ann Arbor and local therapist, said the resolution is about reconnecting with historically-used practices in nature. 

“This resolution is about restoring our connection to ourselves and restoring connection to nature,” Baron said. “Our ancestors use these plants and fungi, and there’s early documentation of this. Western society, sadly, has almost eliminated the use of these natural compounds.”

Ann Arbor resident Diana Quinn, a naturopathic physician and University alum, said the implications are of particular significance to the BIPOC communities who have experienced years of oppression for their practices in plant healing.

“The importance of protecting and preserving cultural practices by decriminalizing plant medicines cannot be overstated,” Quinn said. “Decriminalizing sacred plant medicine is an act of liberation for the very forms of healing that Black and Brown people of culture have lost and been stripped out for healing ourselves through hundreds of years of colonization and racial oppression.”

When councilmembers began discussing the resolution, Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, explained how the purpose of this resolution is to remove the stigma surrounding psychedelic plants for patients and research.

“I think the intent of this (resolution) is to decriminalize the use of this as best we’re able as a council to allow for personal use, research, to give the folks who are doing cutting-edge research on mental health issues more tools to remove the stigma around the use of these plants,” Hayner said.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, also acknowledged the systemic issues with drug policies on the national level, explaining how these decisions are often based on financial gains at the expense of lives.

“It’s unfortunate that that’s how drug policies work in America — it’s what makes more money, criminalizing it or advancing the medical benefits of them,” Ramlawi said. “Whether it’s this or marijuana, we see a shift in American policy with drugs. There was much more money to be made with criminalization of these drugs, and now there is a realization of the profits to be made. And so it’s unfortunate there’s been a lot of people who have been caught in the crossfire and who are serving time and have had their lives ruined.”

The resolution unanimously passed.

Another topic of discussion involved the potential partnership with the University in providing emergency shelter for Ann Arbor residents in the event of a second COVID-19 resurgence. 

Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, introduced a resolution to engage in open communication with the University to discuss options for supplying housing options. The resolution aims to scincludes an effort to schedule a meeting with the Board of Regents by Nov. 1 to discuss possible housing arrangements.

“If we have an outbreak this fall or winter season, I would like to be ready to discuss a whole lot more than the encampments and hotels,” Nelson said. “Thousands of units of housing sat empty at the University of Michigan this past spring and summer. The wastefulness of that should not be repeated.”

Ramlawi challenged this resolution by explaining how the Nov. 1 date is unrealistic, given how previous unofficial attempts to meet with the board have yet to occur. Ramlwai suggested changing the deadline to February.

“I do have some concerns though, if this does call out for more time frames that are aggressive,” Ramlawi said. “November 1, to have a meeting between the city council and the regents to discuss the housing needs both temporary and long term.”

Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, countered by explaining the urgency of needing to discuss plans with the University, given the economic downturn.

“I think putting off a meeting until February ignores the urgency of the issue that this resolution tries to address,” Eaton said. “We are quite likely to enter a second wave of the pandemic momentarily.”

Hayner also said the University is a state university, and therefore it is well within the city’s rights to ask about its use. Moving forward, Hayner said he hopes these conversations with the regents will take place.

“I’ll just say a general statement to remind everybody that this is a state university that, shocking as it may be for people hearing this, that land and those buildings belong to the state, and therefore they belong to all of us,” Hayner said. “And so we are well within our rights to ask for a conversation about the use, the ongoing use, alternative use or whatever else from this public land that exists here in our community.”

The resolution to schedule a meeting by Nov. 1 with the board to discuss Ann Arbor temporary emergency shelter needs passed 7-4. 

Daily Staff Reporter Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu

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