Decriminalization of Psychedelics – How Does it Differ from Legalization?

A growing number of locations have decriminalized the use of psychedelics. As a result, some people believe that drugs such as magic mushrooms are now legal to use. However, while the decriminalization of substances like psilocybin is positive news, it doesn’t mean you can use it with no consequences.

This article looks at decriminalization vs. legalization of psychedelics.

Legalization vs. Decriminalization – What’s the Difference?

When it comes to decriminalized vs. legal, there is a huge difference. When a drug is legalized, it means you can’t get arrested and prosecuted for using it. That is, as long as you adhere to the law.

For example, California residents aged 21+ can purchase and possess a maximum of one ounce of cannabis. This means that if you visit the Golden State and are old enough, you can freely purchase an ounce of marijuana. Law enforcement can’t arrest you for this action. However, you can get into trouble if you are caught with two ounces.


Also, marijuana is only legal at the state level because it is a federally illegal substance. In theory, the DEA could arrest people in states like Colorado and California for using cannabis. However, it would cause an almighty problem as the DEA would be guilty of interfering in state matters.

When a substance is decriminalized, law enforcement no longer sees it as a top priority. If you are caught with a small amount of an illegal yet decriminalized drug, the incident doesn’t end up on your permanent record. However, it is still a civil infraction. The police will confiscate the drug, and you will have to pay a fine.

In recent times, several American cities have decriminalized the use of psychedelics, mainly psilocybin. However, only one state has legalized these drugs on a limited basis. 

The Decriminalization of Psychedelics Is a Recent Phenomenon

There are a handful of nations that decriminalize specific drugs. In 2001, Portugal shocked the world with its bold plan, called ‘the drug strategy.’ The European nation decriminalized the possession of all drugs for personal use. The aim was to reduce the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country because experts estimated that 50% of new cases came from intravenous drug use.

There are a handful of nations that decriminalize specific drugs.

The strategy ensured that you could no longer be arrested for the possession of small amounts of any illegal drug. Anti-drug advocates believed it was a disastrous decision with dire consequences inevitable. They waited for the fallout. They are still waiting.

In reality, the drug strategy of Portugal is a success two decades on. The overall levels of drug use are below the European Union average! Portugal reported 131 drug-related deaths in 2001. Seven years later, that figure was down to 20.

However, Portugal’s decriminalization doesn’t mean people can use whatever drugs they like. You are still fined if caught with certain drugs and may also face a travel ban. There are also severe penalties for drug traffickers, including lengthy prison sentences.

Nonetheless, the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal includes psilocybin mushrooms. Once again, you could face a fine for using them but won’t face any serious charge.

The Rise of Decriminalization

It seems as if other countries are beginning to follow Portugal’s common-sense policy. At least, they are with regards to certain psychedelics. Here are a few countries that have decriminalized the use of psilocybin mushrooms, for example:

  • Austria (dried mushrooms)
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Spain (Personal use in a private space)
  • Switzerland

In all of these nations, being caught in possession of magic mushrooms will likely lead to a fine, but nothing more.

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Although most American jurisdictions don’t tolerate psilocybin use, a few have bucked the trend. It is decriminalized in the following cities:

  • Ann Arbor
  • Denver
  • Oakland
  • Santa Cruz

In November 2020, Washington, D.C, passed a bill to decriminalize the growth and use of entheogenic plants and fungi.

However, please note that you are not free to use psilocybin in these locations. If caught, you are fined. If you are caught with a large amount, you will likely face criminal charges as a trafficker.

In November 2020, Oregon made history after over 58% of residents voted in favor of Measure 110. This act ensured that Oregon became the first state in America to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs. This includes heroin and cocaine. The state has followed Portugal’s lead, and it is interesting to see how things pan out.

Those caught with illegal drugs are punished in the form of a civil violation akin to a traffic offense. The fine is $100, though you can avoid it by agreeing to take part in a health assessment.

However, Oregon went one step further when it comes to psychedelics.

Is There Any Legalization of Psychedelics?

Yes! The state of Oregon also became the first in America to legalize psilocybin. Just over 56% of residents voted in favor of Measure 109 in November 2020. However, there is a very big caveat. Measure 109 only allows the regulated use of magic mushrooms in a therapeutic setting. It comes into effect in February 2021.


The law will permit anyone aged 21+ in Oregon to access a special service for personal development. Applicants must also pass a screening. This means psilocybin doesn’t yet enjoy the same status as cannabis in Oregon. Measure 109 only allows the storage and administration of the drug at licensed facilities.

At least, it is a step in the right direction with regards to the legalization of such drugs. California will likely become the next state to allow limited psilocybin use. An initiative to do so failed to gather enough votes in early 2020 when the global pandemic hit. However, there is a major push towards getting psychedelic drugs on the Golden State ballot in the next few years.

Are Psychedelics Legal Anywhere?

The legal status of psychedelics is difficult to ascertain in many countries. There are several where psilocybin is illegal, but the law is seldom enforced. However, only a handful of nations specifically permit the use of certain psychedelic drugs.

The Bahamas is one example of where psilocybin mushrooms are fully legal.

The Bahamas is one example of where psilocybin mushrooms are fully legal. The psilocybin molecule and mushrooms containing it are legal to buy, possess, sell, and use. In Jamaica, it is also legal and relatively easy to purchase them. However, this is mainly because there is no law against it, rather than a law that allows it.

In Nepal, magic mushrooms remain an uncontrolled substance. In the Netherlands, you can purchase truffles containing psilocybin, but not mushrooms. You can also use mushrooms found in nature in Samoa and the British Virgin Islands.

In Brazil, the substances psilocin and psilocybin are technically illegal. However, the fungal species are not illegal! Therefore, one can theoretically use magic mushrooms. There are no records of people being arrested for their use in Brazil.

Decriminalization vs. Legalization of Psychedelics – Final Thoughts

Although the new legislation in Oregon is exciting, it doesn’t mean you can freely use psilocybin. In the decriminalize vs. legalize debate, you should know that only the latter permits you to use a substance legally. If it is decriminalized, you will still receive a fine. Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug that’s now decriminalized in many locations. However, it is only legal in a few.

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