Shifting Local Laws Make Psilocybin Businesses ‘A Lot of Work’ to Establish in Oregon

A Q&A with Oregon’s Angela Allbee

Angela Allbee is manager of the Oregon Psilocybin Services Section, which is part of the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority, and oversees the implementation of Measure 109. In January, her team began accepting license applications from aspiring psilocybin facilitators, manufacturers, service centers and testing labs. A veteran of nonprofits and legislative policy work, Allbee recently shared her thoughts about her job, the rollout of legalized psilocybin, and the role Oregon is playing in the rapidly evolving landscape of psychedelic medicine.


How do you like your job?

It’s been an incredible chance for me to weave together a decade of work in the nonprofit sector where I’ve worked with refugees, veterans, houseless individuals and families, and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault, as well as a decade of work where I’ve been part of shaping health and human services policy in Oregon. From those experiences, I understand how important it is to have caring individuals on your team who can serve people and the resources and policy needed to create more effective services. When this opportunity came up, I was immediately interested because psychedelics are something I’ve been aware of for a long time. I read Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” when I was very young and have always been interested in altered states of consciousness and the lenses we use to see the world, which can become diffused by or shifted by trauma and by experience. So accepting this position connected a sweet cycle that tied together all this work I’ve done and interests I’ve had.

How would you describe the team you have in place?

The Oregon Psilocybin Services team is incredible. Every individual comes from some tremendous lived and professional experience representing different communities and different identities. It’s so important we all come together and help shape new ways to think about our work and really centering equity and access and affordability. I think that we’re all very committed to our mission of the Oregon Health Authority and our strategic plan to eliminate health inequities in our state, and Oregon’s State Health Improvement Plan, which has five priority areas: institutional bias,  adversity, toxic stress and trauma, behavioral health, economic drivers of health, and access to equitable preventative healthcare.

You began accepting applications for various psilocybin-related licenses in January. What do you think about the numbers you’re seeing so far? Has it been a slow start?

The numbers will definitely increase over time, but different factors are affecting each license type. Those who are applying for facilitator licenses are still finishing up their required training programs. Right now, we have not received any facilitator applications,  but once people start graduating from their programs we’ll see an influx. And these are the simplest applications to review and issues licenses for. We review the paperwork to ensure it meets requirements, ensure proof of training, of residency, of a passing score on the regulations exam, and we run a background check. The worker permit applications are also fairly simple to process because we review the permit application and process a background check. We’ve received 157 completed worker-permit applications to date.

For manufacturers, service centers, and testing labs, applications go through a more complex process that involves more documents, background checks, a site inspection, and other criteria. As of today,  we’ve received completed applications from 15 manufacturers, 6 service centers, and 2 testing labs. But there are many more incomplete applications pending in the system for all license types.

What are some of the other factors that might be slowing things down?

A big one is that local governments can adopt their own “time, place and manner” regulations, which impacts where and how businesses can operate. We’re finding a lot of cities and counties around the state are actually modifying their land-use and zoning laws. In many cases, this is making manufacturers and service centers have to change their plans. It’s a lot of work setting up one of these businesses, but as these processes become more understood and streamlined, we expect to see the overall volume of applications grow for service centers.

How much did you look at the rollout of legalized cannabis in Oregon to inform your thinking about legalized psilocybin? 

Of course, cannabis paved a pathway for the legalization of Schedule One substances, and we’ve learned a lot from that process. That said, we’re not working with the plant kingdom now, we’re working with the fungal kingdom, which is an important distinction because it has an entirely different growth cycle and cultivation methodology. And this isn’t a dispensary model, so we’re not centering the product, we’re centering the client accessing psilocybin services. This is a health and wellness model. Oregon Psilocybin Services is housed within the Oregon Health Authority, and all our goals are about shifting away from a drug policy framework that’s rooted in the War on Drugs and  into a health policy framework that supports health and wellness. That’s really incredible, in my eyes.

Some of the similarities to cannabis includes Section 280E of the tax code, as well as insurance, banking, and security challenges for psilocybin-related businesses. Even though these issues may be out of our hands, we know that they have an impact on important business decisions. And while we recognize fully that we are a health-related agency — and do not work in business issues — we are trying to help support small business owners. That’s why we teamed up with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office of Small Business Assistance Office to identify business resources that may be helpful. It’s really important that business owners have all the information they need to navigate the system.

Regarding the absence of something similar to the Cole memo — which assured cannabis business owners that they wouldn’t be prosecuted by federal law enforcement — what role, if any, does your team play in addressing that?

There’s a provision in the statute that directs OHA to contact the U.S. Attorney for Oregon and attempt to have a meeting to discuss our section’s work. As a result, we’ve drafted a letter to the U.S. Attorney, which we’ll send after it’s been reviewed. If we do get a meeting, we’ll share information about the work we’re doing under ORS 475A. Do we need another Cole memo? This is what a lot of people in the psilocybin community are talking about. Even though it’s an important issue, but it’s not within our statutory directive to work on federal advocacy. We work within a state agency system that has very specific policies and guidelines for how we operate, and that is informed by the statutes that direct our work.

Colorado’s Prop 122 differs in many ways from Oregon’s Measure 109, most notably in allowing adults to grow, possess and give away psilocybin mushrooms, where Oregon allows psilocybin use only with a licensed facilitator. Do you feel that one approach is better than the other?

You’re bringing up a really important issue related to the landscape of substances that have been a part of many cultures for thousands of years. When we talk about psilocybin in Oregon, we’re not just talking about the legalized framework. We’re talking about trying to reduce harm to those communities that have operated in the unregulated space for thousands of years — and really drawing from their wisdom and their knowledge to administer our work. The Measure 109 framework is not a one-size-fits-all for everyone. Some people may choose to continue their spiritual or ceremonial-use practice. We want to be mindful that the decisions we’re making impact many people. Because Oregon is the first state to implement a legalized framework, our decisions will have a ripple effect on every part of psilocybin policy.

As far as what Colorado does, or any state- we want them to be successful, because all of it is about creating opportunities for people to find wellness and healing. I think one of the strengths of Oregon’s legalized framework is that you have someone who is specifically trained to help support you. It’s not just sitting with you; it’s the preparation, it’s the support during the experience, and it’s the integration afterward. This range and depth of support is so essential to this health and wellness approach. So while Colorado is taking a slightly different approach, we want to be a resource and to learn, listen, and share information as we go so we all succeed in this work together.

I don’t recall seeing it anywhere, but is there any component of indigenous reciprocity in Measure 109?

No, there’s nothing mandated in the statute. That said, reciprocity is a really important conversation. While we do not have reciprocity in the statutory language of M109, in our administrative rules we’re requiring social equity plans from all licensees applicants. We want to see a plan that doesn’t just say, “We believe in equity,” but that includes specific, measurable goals. Reciprocity could certainly be part of those social equity plans.  

In November, 25 of Oregon’s 36 counties passed ordinances to “opt out” of Measure 109. What impact has that had on the rollout of the measure?

I think Oregon has sort of become the testing ground for learning about how people think about psilocybin. And within Oregon itself, the shift of mindset about embracing this substance as a potential option for healing and wellness has not happened everywhere. One of our goals is to continue educating the public about this natural substance and about the important ways that the regulatory framework of M109 helps support client safety and access. . It’s possible that some people have had a difficult experience with cannabis in their local area, or they don’t understand how psilocybin grows naturally all over the planet and in the very forests of their region. There’s also the stigma and bias against psilocybin that was created by propaganda from the War on Drugs. So we’re still working to shift the mindset about the  potential benefits of safe, effective psilocybin services in Oregon. Many people still see this as a party drug rather than an option for healing and wellness. They don’t understand that it can be a powerful tool for one’s personal healing journey. It’s going to take some time to change minds. But I’m excited to see Oregon demonstrate that we can do this work safely in Oregon and learn from our work as we evolve it over time.