Hundreds of local entheogenic and psychedelic plant activists gathered on the University of Michigan Diag Sunday afternoon for the first-ever Entheofest, a celebration and call for the decriminalization of plant medicines and fungi in Ann Arbor and beyond. The event began exactly at 11:11 a.m. and ended at 2:22 p.m.

The celebration came a year after the Ann Arbor City Council voted to decriminalize the use and possession of entheogenic plants in September 2020. The resolution the council voted to approve stated that arresting individuals for use of entheogenic plants such as mushrooms would be the city’s “lowest priority.” At the meeting, many community members voiced their support for the decriminalization of these psychedelic substances.

With the passage of the resolution, Ann Arbor became one of a handful of cities in the country to decriminalize psychedelics. Denver legalized entheogenic plants in May 2019, becoming the first city to do so. 

In January 2021, Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced that his office will no longer prosecute individuals for use of marijuana or entheogenic plants. A few months later, in August, City Council declared September the Entheogenic Plant and Fungi Awareness month.

Ellie Ribitwer and Marina Chupac, criminal defense attorneys in Wayne County, decided to attend Entheofest together in support of the decriminalization and destigmatization of entheogens. 

“This is the beginning of getting everybody together, passing out information, setting up booths and having the prosecutors speak on it,” Ribitwer said. “There’s been a lot of prosecutions for this when really it doesn’t need to be categorized as a drug. I think it has crazy healing properties, the clinical tests on PTSD and depression and all of that is profound. And I think the War on Drugs is ending, and if Michigan can get ahead of it the way that California and Oregon have, let’s do it.” 

Chupac told The Michigan Daily she has “no shame” in admitting that she uses entheogens because she finds them helpful for improving her mental health.

“I’ve used these psychedelic plants in the past to open my mind and my heart,” Chupac said. “It’s changed the way I live, the way I look at everything I see and my connection to other people and that’s important. I think that psychedelics, in general, help open up that gateway, and the more connected we are, the better off we are as a unit.”

School of Social Work student Christian Smith attended the event and said Entheofest was planned in celebration of the anniversary of the council’s vote to decriminalize entheogenic plants.

“Psychedelics … have been used by humans for thousands of years for healing, both (for) interpersonal and intercultural healing,” Smith said. “And this is a celebration of the year anniversary of decriminalizing sacred plant medicines in Ann Arbor.”

State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, spoke to the crowd about his efforts to pass Senate Bill 631, which would legalize entheogenic plants and fungi for non-commercial use in Michigan. 

“We know these substances have tremendous medicinal benefits,” Irwin said to the crowd. “We know they have religious and cultural significance. And we know that they’re not particularly harmful to people and these substances aren’t likely to lead to addiction.”

The bill, introduced by Irwin on Sept. 2, seeks to amend numerous sections of the public health code to include provisions related to the use and possession of entheogenic plants.

“An individual is not in violation of this section if the individual manufactures, creates, delivers, or possesses with intent to manufacture, create, or deliver an entheogenic plant or fungus without receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus,” the bill reads.

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, chose to speak at Entheofest to stress how pharmaceutical companies are “greedy” by advocating for the criminalization of entheogens.

“When you look at the pharmaceutical companies and the drugs that they’ve manufactured, look at the opioid epidemic — they have killed more people with the opioid epidemic than mushrooms have ever killed in their entire history,” Rabhi said to the audience. “There is no comparison. So, why are we allowing these pharmaceutical companies to continue to do their thing, and allowing these things to continue to be criminalized, when the real medicine is growing in the ground?”

Social Work student Moss Herberholz, president of the Student Association for Psychedelic Studies, said research has shown plant medicines have significant therapeutic potential and that efforts to decriminalize entheogenic substances is a step forward in ending the War on Drugs.

“Decriminalizing these substances reduces the number of people who are incarcerated through the racist War on Drugs,” Herberholz said.

The War on Drugs began during the Nixon administration and increased penalties for possession and use of marijuana, psychedelics, opioids and other substances. The heightened criminalization of drug use during this period coincided with a rise in law enforcement presence in predominantly Black and Latinx urban neighborhoods. As a result, Black and Latinx people make up about 80% of the total federal prison population.

Michael Williams, co-director of Decriminalize Nature Michigan, secretary for Michigan Psychedelic Society and member of the Board of Directors for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, helped organize Entheofest and delivered a speech at the event. Williams has been in recovery from opioid addiction for 15 years and credits entheogens to the start of his recovery.

“It was a single psychedelic mushroom experience trying to just chase another high, where I took a look in the cosmic mirror and saw myself and the things I was doing to my body, and realized that I needed to make some life changes,” Williams told The Daily. “I then was able to give up opioids, able to distance myself from methamphetamines, and started looking at psychedelics as a way to connect with spirituality and find myself.”

Though he ran into legal trouble for using entheogens, Williams said as a white person he saw people of color receive harsher legal consequences than he did, which inspired his start in drug decriminalization activism. 

“Having been in the opioid war and having been on the receiving end of criminal justice issues regarding drug law, I found myself recognizing that I may be a white guy getting in trouble,” Williams told The Daily. “But, quite frankly, for every one of me, there’s nine people of color in this situation. And I started to see the racial disparity (in) all this. So that’s when I became a drug policy activist.”

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