A Conversation with Steve Rolles: Shaping Global Psychedelic Policies

Host April Pride engages in a thought-provoking discussion with Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst for Transform Drug Policy, recorded at the MAPS Psychedelic Conference. Gain unparalleled insights into the global policies that Steve has helped shape over 20+ years. Explore the significance of clearly labeled unit dosage, the potential speed of psilocybin regulations changing, the prevalence of recreational psychedelic use, and real-world case studies on the societal impact of legal magic mushrooms.

Global Drug Policy With Steve Rolles

In this episode, host April Pride is in discussion with Steve Rolles, Sr. Policy Analyst for Transform Drug Policy. Recorded at MAPS Psychedelic Conference, Steve shares his unparalleled insight into the global policies that he’s helped shape over 20+ years.
After listening to this episode, you’ll have a better understanding of:

  • Significance of clearly labeled unit dosage
  • How quickly psilocybin regulations may actually change
  • 95% of psychedelic use is for recreational purposes, and why that matters
  • Case studies on the societal impact of legal magic mushrooms

Episode Guests

Steve Rolles LinkedIn

Episode Resources & Additional Reading

More on Transform Drug Policy:
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Join The High Guide host April Pride for Wunder Wednesdays in Seattle. More information and tickets are available on the OF LIKE MINDS Eventbrite page.

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Podcast Episode Full Transcription

0:00:00.1 April Pride, host: We’ve not yet met. Are you having a conference?

0:00:06.0 Steve Rolles: Yeah, it’s great, but it’s kind of weird and overwhelming and I don’t know if you’ve asked other people that, but you probably get this. I think the overwhelming word might come up a bit just because it’s so big. I mean, I’ve been to conferences with 1200 people and thought they were too big.

0:00:21.1 April Pride, host: Right.

0:00:21.9 SR: And there’s 12,000 people and so there’s just so much where it’s kind of too much. There’s lots of things I’d like to see and do and people I’d like to meet. I’m just not going to have to…

0:00:30.0 April Pride, host: No way.

0:00:30.7 SR: ‘Cause it’s just far too much to do. So it’s personally, I prefer smaller conferences. There’s this really nerdy drug policy conference organized by the ISSTP. There’s about 100 people kind of nerd… Drug policy nerds from around the world, and they meet for two days. And that’s great ’cause you can literally meet and talk to everybody at the conference.

0:00:49.1 April Pride, host: Right. Yeah.

0:00:50.2 SR: And have in depth discussions and you go then the sessions aren’t all overlapping with each other. I’ve also found it there’s such an array of stuff here, so I found some of it quite strange. The collision of kind of corporate capitalism with psychedelics in the exhibitor space is quite weird. And I get a similar feeling sometimes when I’ve been to commercialized cannabis conferences. Not that it’s…

0:01:16.5 April Pride, host: Which is my background, by the way.

0:01:17.8 SR: Right. So this has some commercial dimensions to it, but then there’s other stuff which is not commercial at all. So it’s just like everything is here.

0:01:26.1 April Pride, host: Everything is here. Yes.

0:01:27.1 SR: From the stuff which I’m into, the stuff I’m not into, the stuff I like, stuff I don’t like. It’s like it’s all here and it’s kind of like, poof. It’s quite in your face. But it’s cool. Four days, at least there’s some time to explore.

0:01:42.1 April Pride, host: If you wouldn’t mind, could you introduce yourself…

0:01:44.8 SR: Yeah, sorry.

0:01:45.4 April Pride, host: In your work. No, that’s okay.

0:01:46.7 SR: My name’s Steve Rolles. I’m a senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which is a UK based non-profit charity. We do policy analysis and advocacy in the drug policy and law reform space. So we advocate specifically for an end to the sort of prohibitionist paradigm and the war on drugs. A lot of our work has focused on modeling how a post prohibition world would work.

0:02:12.8 April Pride, host: Okay.

0:02:14.0 SR: So looking at models for regulating legal drug markets in a post prohibition scenario. So how would that work? So we looked at all drugs we’ve set up about 25 years ago. And…

0:02:26.2 April Pride, host: That’s amazing.

0:02:26.8 SR: Yeah.

0:02:27.7 April Pride, host: Can I just interrupt you for one second? If you set it up 25, were you a part of it the 25 years ago?

0:02:32.9 SR: Yeah, I was the first… I didn’t set it up myself, but the person who set it up, I was then employed. Yeah.

0:02:37.6 April Pride, host: Okay, so you had some predictions and this is how we’re going to map it out. This is how we’d like to see Ketamine go to market. This is how we like just… I would love to know how it’s actually transpired.

0:02:49.0 SR: Well, I mean, we operate internationally, so there’s actually I mean, most of the action so far has been around cannabis stuff, inevitably, I guess. So, And for me it’s amazing because I looked when we started and cannabis legalization hadn’t happened anywhere. I mean, there was sort of legalization in the Netherlands, but it was sort of hard, and then about ten years ago, Colorado, Washington, 2012…

0:03:11.8 April Pride, host: Thank you, by the way, for saying Washington. I live in Seattle at the same time you said Colorado because it’s like…

0:03:17.9 SR: No, it Washington as well. I mean, they took a little bit longer to get it up and running. Colorado kind of got the first doors open and then Uruguay, and then things started happening. And so for us it was really rewarding ’cause by that point we’d already been doing… We’d done 15 years of advocacy and then stuff started happening. So it starts to move from an advocacy and campaigning position to engage with policymakers to actually do, because we’d done a lot of quite nerdy, technical stuff about how you would regulate licensing of vendors and packaging. And product controls and market architecture and tax and price and all these kind of the details that you have to go through when you regulate something.

0:04:00.7 SR: When these policymakers got to the point where they were ready to move, we then often had an opportunity to go sit down with them. So I worked with the federal task force in Canada on their regulation model and we worked with the government in Uruguay quite closely. I mean, it’s a small country, it’s easier to have easier access to power and we worked with the government, and on their model. And subsequently in Mexico, we had an allyship with a Mexican NGO and we took the court cases that led to legalization in Mexico. And now there’s all this stuff happening in Europe. There’s a sort of second wave of European style legalisation happening and we’re working with the governments in Luxembourg and on a consultancy basis. So it’s been nice really for us to move from a kind of campaigning position to a consultancy with government position. Instead of giving governments a hard time, you’re sitting down with them and…

0:04:49.2 April Pride, host: It’s tactical.

0:04:50.2 SR: Designing the market architecture of these things. And I mean, our focus has been very much on prioritizing public health and social justice and sustainable development. So we’re trying to look at these things in an international perspective as well as just domestic law. And some of that has raised interesting questions about how we work with industry. So we don’t take any industry funding. I mean, we obviously work with industry because they are a key stakeholder and we’re not anti-industry, but we’ve done quite a lot of work looking at preventing kind of the emergence of monopolies or oligopolies.

0:05:24.5 SR: So the kind of thing that’s happened with the alcohol and tobacco industry globally, where you’ve got four or five big mega companies who control 80% of the global market, and it’s not to be opposed to competition or entrepreneurship, to say, actually, when you get companies that big and powerful, it can distort your policymaking priorities. So it’s not an anti-business perspective, it’s an anti-monopoly or oligopoly and preventing the corporate capture that can follow on from that, where they use their lobbying might and their PR machines and big fat budgets to change policy in ways that serves their interest rather than the public good.

0:06:04.4 April Pride, host: Yeah, it’s not anti-monopoly, it’s pro-consumer at the end of the day.

0:06:08.8 SR: Yeah.

0:06:09.0 April Pride, host: You’re trying to protect…

0:06:10.4 SR: You’re trying to protect consumers, but also the wider society as well. It’s not just the consumers…

0:06:15.7 April Pride, host: Good point.

0:06:16.5 SR: Because these markets do impact on everybody and there’s tax revenue, which gets spent more broadly and all of those things. So it’s good in a way that the debate has moved from should we legalize and regulate drug X, Y, Z, to when we do it, or if we do it or now we’re doing it. How do we do it? How do we get it right? What are the sort of contours of your regulatory infrastructure that will deliver on our shared goals, be that, public health or social justice or economic or environmental or whatever it is.

0:06:47.0 SR: And then you get into the interesting arena of, whose goals are we gonna prioritize? ‘Cause if you prioritize economic goals, you’ll get one model. If you prioritize public health, you might get another, if you prioritize child welfare, you might get another. And so different stakeholders will have different priorities and they all need to be involved in that discussion.

0:07:05.9 SR: And this has to be compromise. And this is the kind of interesting bit of the sort of policy debates where you start to get into those fights. ‘Cause sometimes different priorities are at odds with each other. Not always. I mean, everyone wants to see crime reduced and everyone wants to see public health industry enhanced.

0:07:21.6 SR: But something like, if you look at, say, tax on cigarettes, public health people say “Put the tax up. Put the tax up”, because we know that if you put the price up, you’ll dissuade people from consuming as much and you get less smoking and then less health harm to do with smoking. And okay, that make sense. And a lot of places have put the tax right up, but if you put it up too far, you start to incentivize smuggling and counterfeiting so you get illegal activity.

0:07:43.0 SR: So you’ve then got this trade-off of conflicting priorities, ’cause the police will be saying, “Hang on, can you keep the price down a bit? ‘Cause otherwise we’re gonna get the smuggling”. And that’s bad. And that’s a sort of example of the kind of trade-offs. It’s not, there isn’t just one form of legalization. You can have very open commercialized markets. You can have very strictly regulated sort of state monopolies. And if you look at like Uruguay and compare it to their cannabis market, compare it to here in Colorado, they don’t have branded products. You have to be a member. I mean, it’s too restrictive.

0:08:17.9 April Pride, host: You buy it at a pharmacy.

0:08:18.7 SR: You have to buy it at a pharmacy. I did work on that model. I have to say we recommended against some of these things.

0:08:24.7 April Pride, host: You think it’s too restrictive? I’m connecting.

0:08:26.3 SR: I think membership based is too restrictive. You have to register to buy from a pharmacy. And you can imagine your cannabis user historically persecuted by the government and the police and authorities. And you just don’t wanna be on a database as a drug user. You’re just not gonna want to be. So and there weren’t enough pharmacies and, they should have had dedicated outlets on, but they pharmacy for whatever reason, I think the sort of medicalisation was seen as politically reassuring or.

0:08:52.1 April Pride, host: Yes I’m sure it was. The first step that people wanted to take. I’m connecting some dots from your Twitter. When you were saying that you would like in psilocybin as it’s commercialized to not see candy and chocolates. And I worked in Canada before it was voted in by parliament. I’m from the US I sold a company into the Canadian market and worked up there. So the rollout for 10, 18 right or 10, 17 2018 was only flour or pre-rolls. Those flower pre-rolls and then they added on edibles.

0:09:28.2 SR: Yeah. That was my idea.

0:09:29.4 April Pride, host: I wanna talk about that obviously. It must be connected.

0:09:33.6 SR: I suggested, look, if you’re gonna have those other things have a phased rollout and it was purely from a kind of regulatory pragmatism, which was there was an additional regulatory burden and bureaucratic burden associated with edibles and concentrates and things. You have to set up all these structures, all these institutions to regulate all this stuff. Do it, don’t feel you have to do it all at once. Just do flour to start with and then do the other stuff in phase two. And it wasn’t like as anti the second phase stuff. It was just like, just make life easy for yourself. ‘Cause they’ve got I think 4000 staff at the institution, the regulatory entity.

0:10:11.1 April Pride, host: At Health Canada?

0:10:12.0 SR: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of people involved in regulatory enforcement and compliance stuff ’cause these are big institutional structures. People who kinda “Let’s see guys legalize weed”. It’s kinda like, actually there’s quite a big institutional regulatory framework that has to go around that it costs money to establish, you have to train people, you have to design the institutions. It’s actually quite a big undertaking. So my thing was that, don’t overload yourself. Do it in some phases. And they thought, that sounds like a good idea.

0:10:39.8 April Pride, host: It was great. I mean, it really, from a marketer standpoint, your job was pretty easy. It was very straightforward. The other question I wanna ask you, as you were saying about raising taxes on tobacco, and how it gets too high, it will dissuade people from buying through a legal outlet and people will start smuggling in. So 75% of the weed that is consumed in Canada and in California is still coming from the legacy market because taxes are over 40%.

0:11:10.2 SR: So again, I mean I think it’s a bit less than that in Canada now. It’s more like, half 40%. I mean, but it depends whether you believe the health Canada data.

0:11:20.1 April Pride, host: I hope that’s the case, right?

0:11:20.6 SR: But you can see there’s a good trajectory. On year two it was about 30%. Year three, it was like 40 and now it’s kind of nudged over 50. And if it carries on that trajectory, if it gets to sort of 70, 80, you’ll then be getting, you’d think, okay, that’s not ideal.

0:11:33.8 April Pride, host: That’s normalized at that point.

0:11:35.1 SR: But it’s much better than it in zero. Tax and regulated and consumer that can be confident. And there’s lines of accountability if… All of that stuff. I think the situation in California was a unique circumstances, but then ridiculous grey market or informal market dispensaries, quasi-medical. And so there was that weird historical legacy and that weird historical legacy market.

0:11:57.7 April Pride, host: And so much supply.

0:11:58.6 SR: I mean and up in Canada as well. I mean apparently they were… They burnt 900 tons of excess production, that should be like a crime against humanity. [laughter] Like don’t burn it. What do they do? I was like, “If you can’t sell it or it’s getting to, can you not like extract the oil or something and store it? Or can you not take the THC out or something? Don’t just burn it… Unless it’s in an enormous 900 ton joint.” But that…

0:12:26.6 April Pride, host: That’s amazing.

0:12:27.9 SR: Yeah.

0:12:28.0 April Pride, host: Yeah, well, the whole world comes in.

0:12:30.4 SR: I don’t know how big that would be. But, I mean, like the chocolates thing, is a good example of the kind of policy dilemmas you have. I totally understand why people like infused edibles, whether it’s cannabis and mushrooms, and people like chocolates, people like gummies. You’re kind of like, well, why don’t we have infused? And it’s like, yeah, I totally get that. And I don’t object to people having them and consuming them, but there’s a public health concern about paediatric poisonings and it’s relatively minor in public health terms, but where there has been legalization and commercialization of cannabis and candy-infused edibles gummies, whatnot have become much more available, there has been an increase in paediatric poisonings. Now, the numbers are still quite small. It might have gone from 40 a year in Colorado to 200 a year or something, or I haven’t got the exact numbers. But it’s lowish numbers like that. And none of them, I think, were particularly serious, if that sounds a bit uncaring, but no, no one died. I don’t think there was any long-lasting medical harm, certainly not, and compared to the numbers for poisonings from prescription medicines or cleaning products it’s tiny, which is in 1000s. So you might think, well…

0:13:46.7 April Pride, host: And much more.

0:13:46.8 SR: Is that really an issue? It’s an issue when you have the opponents of legalization going, look, you legalize it and you get the increase of five-fold of kids. What’s more important? My right to be able to have gummies or the fact that this is a pain in the ass for everyone else who’s trying to legalize afterwards? Because it comes up again and again and again and now it may be a bit of a bullshit argument, oh, gummies and kids. But it just keeps coming up and it’s politically very potent. It’s coming up in Europe, just to let people in the US know that every time legalization comes up in Europe people go, you’re putting cannabis in sweets and kids are going to eat them.

0:14:25.5 SR: And so what it’s doing is it creates this political headache as well as being a legitimate public health concern albeit a fairly marginal one. It’s a political headache for other reformers because it’s just handing to the sort of Kevin Sabet Smart Approaches to Marijuana type people. It’s a smart approaches and I want to type people, who just bring it up every time, and they’ve got a point. You can’t say that it’s… I mean, they come up with all kinds…

0:14:46.9 April Pride, host: It’s not untrue.

0:14:47.9 SR: No. They may come up with lots of bullshit but they kind of got a point with that. And it’s like, so we’ve sort of said, okay, let’s not have cannabis-infused confectioneries particularly when they’re in branded wrappers that look like regular candy.

0:15:07.6 April Pride, host: I’m not going to show you my psilocybin chocolate-covered caramels with a bright yellow wrapper that I… [laughter]

0:15:07.7 SR: The thing is, I can see, I totally understand why people want to have their boutique truffle chocky mushroom thing. I understand that, and I totally get why consumers want those things and I’m sure they’re lovely products. But right at this moment in time like a bunch of headlines about kids eating… And there was one in The Guardian last week.

0:15:29.5 April Pride, host: Okay.

0:15:29.7 SR: So there was a story, there was a thing about how mushroom, there’s been an increase in mushroom-infused chocolate poisonings, and there were some horrible stories about kids getting freaked out and blah, blah, blah. Again, nothing awful happened, and they were sort of sedated and a day or two later they were fine. But it just makes life difficult ’cause you go, they’re going to commercialize it, they’re going to put it in sweets, kids are going to eat it, what are you doing, and it sounds, that seems very irresponsible and it is quite irresponsible. And then you can blame the parents. And I’m not saying that if you went to a guided retreat or something, if you had your stuff in a chocolate that’s different. I think if you had tinctures or powdered mushroom form that you can easily make into something, I mean, you’ve got a tincture you can just stick it on a sweetie anyway. It’s only a drop, isn’t it?

0:16:14.8 April Pride, host: Right, yeah.

0:16:15.8 SR: You can put it on literally any food you want. If you’ve got dried mushrooms you can stick a bit of an omelette, you can put them into a honey, whatever. You’re not, I’m not saying no one can have edible products, it’s just branded, it’s a bad look.

0:16:28.3 April Pride, host: I appreciate that distinction.

0:16:28.5 SR: At this political juncture, it’s a bad look forever. ‘Cause PowerPoint slide of the candy bars that look like Reese’s Pieces or whatever. They just come up and it’s kind of like, got a point. It’s not to be sort of churlish and prohibitionist, but it’s like, can you just hold off on that shit for a bit, let us get the law changed, and then maybe at some point in the future, you can do it. But people, they want to innovate, they want to entrepreneur, they want to make money. And I understand that.

0:16:56.3 April Pride, host: They want to make money, and I think it’s what it is.

0:16:57.5 SR: And I understand that, but is your need to make money from your boutique, psilocybin chocolates, not you. I mean, [0:17:01.3] ____.

0:17:01.4 April Pride, host: No, yeah. It’s very much…

0:17:01.4 SR: Is it more important than us getting the law changed in Germany or us getting the law changed in us, like Europeans getting the law changed in, or somewhere else in the world? And it just, so it’s little things like that. I mean, it’s not the biggest deal but it’s just one of those things. ‘Cause I’m engaged in that debate every day in high-level policy forums. So it comes up in the UN, I’ve been in the UN and people like him Sabet stand up at the UN and will give a speech and they’ll have a slide of the gummies with the packaging. And you’re kind of like, well, it’s kind of got a point. But like, there’s an inevitability and then I have to then stand up at the UN and go, yes, but we can legalise it, but not do that. We have options. These are decisions that we are now empowered to make as regulators and policy makers. Or we could do it in phase two, or we could say, yes, you can have some edibles but let’s not have candy ones. Or you could say, let’s keep it to, well, cannabis oil and psilocybin tinctures, or powder form. And if people want to prepare that at home then they can do that, and that’s fine. You can do whatever you like with it, but so anyway.

0:18:06.6 April Pride, host: Well, I have questions along those lines. So the reason that I have a chocolate-covered caramel with psilocybin in it, in a bright yellow package is because I launched a psilocybin company underground, in Seattle, last year. Because with this podcast, which I started over two years ago that was the question that… I got the question that people got about weed 10 years ago, where do I get it? And then it became, where do I buy? And then we’re back to, where do I get it?

0:18:31.4 April Pride, host: And so I didn’t really have a trusted source that I could refer to people. So I set it up, made up a name, made up an email and said, oh, you should call this person or you should email this person. Learned a lot, and now have rebranded it and brought it above ground to launch within Seattle’s decriminalized framework. Working with the municipality, leading with education, not being able to gift and donate until after you’ve been through an educational two hours of sitting. So my question for you is, I am listening to you, when you say that the caramels can do harm to all the work that you’ve been trying to do, what else am I not seeing? Because I don’t want what happened with high potency THC, happen with the IGDS? So what…

0:19:20.7 SR: I mean, I think that with…

0:19:22.2 April Pride, host: What are some really good… Do this, don’t do that.

0:19:25.2 April Pride, host: Well, I mean with psychedelics, the thing is it’s not just one… There isn’t just one drug here. We’re talking about mescaline, we’re talking about DMT. We are potentially talking about ibogaine. And one of the principles of sort of regulation from a sort of risky products and behaviors from a public health point of view is that you identify vulnerabilities and you identify risks and you target them with risks. So more risky products, you would regulate more. So if you were selling ibogaine candies, caramels, I would say, Hmm, maybe not. Because, ibogaine, it’s just a very different kettle of psychedelics to magic mushrooms because there’s some toxicity issues. It’s much longer lasting. You can have a sort of 30 hour experience. And it gets… It can be pretty hardcore. It’s all dose related, obviously, but I would regulate ibogaine in a different way to magic mushrooms. And the other ones will just come in between that. But it would also depend on the preparation of the product. So DMT, it’s like, are we talking about Ayahuasca? Are you talking about crystals that you would smoke in a vape? Are you talking about kind of e-cigarette preparations that you can now get?

0:20:33.7 April Pride, host: Yeah. What do you think of the vape pen DMT oil versus the way that people have been consuming it? Because people who are purists do not like this easy access. And they are all sort of people that someone like you perhaps doesn’t like it because it could be mistaken for [0:20:48.9] ____.

0:20:49.7 SR: Yeah. I mean, I think it would need to as long as it’s appropriately labeled and signposted. So you wouldn’t wanna mistake it for an e-cigarette or a…

0:20:56.7 April Pride, host: Well they’re not right now. Underground, they’re not right now. They’re kind of labeled.

0:21:00.9 SR: Kind of explained. Yeah, but you see, but then you get some tedious regulator type like me coming along and going, well, there needs to be a red sort of triangle on there saying, warning to… You’ll trip your [0:21:09.7] ____.

0:21:09.7 April Pride, host: And that will happen, but obviously not right now. So what about dosing? Like, okay, so these caramels, I’m just using these as an example ’cause it’s helpful. They’re two grams by weight of psilocybin, is what’s in the caramel, what it’s been formulated with. Is that too high? Like it’s also, I don’t…

0:21:27.4 SR: I kind of think with dose, it’s gonna depend on which type of mushroom it is.

0:21:33.9 April Pride, host: Okay. That’s fair. Yeah.

0:21:34.0 SR: They vary in strength probably by five-fold from the most to the least potent ones. So that’s a question.

0:21:39.9 April Pride, host: So would you say the least is golden teacher and penis envy is the most?

0:21:43.2 SR: A penis envy, I’d never heard of that before today. And I was like…

0:21:45.7 April Pride, host: Oh, you…

0:21:46.4 SR: No. No.

0:21:47.4 April Pride, host: Oh, okay. That’s interesting.

0:21:49.2 SR: I was at one of those stalls in the [0:21:49.7] ____, I was like, Come on, that’s made up. Surely that’s made up.

0:21:53.9 April Pride, host: It’s a terrible name. Yes. Named in Seattle actually.

0:21:54.9 SR: And I’m guessing it’s because the mushroom looks like a cock. And I thought, oh, that’s hilarious.

0:21:58.9 April Pride, host: A donkey. A donkey. What do they call it? A donkey dick.

0:22:02.7 SR: Donkey dick. I mean okay, whatever. But it’s a bit like some of this goofy names for the cannabis strains, which I also kind of like…

0:22:10.7 April Pride, host: Alaskan Thunder Fuck.

0:22:11.9 SR: Oh yeah. Really? Can you not just speak, just grow up and just… It’s just really annoying. ‘Cause you see, you sometimes see these really sort of stiff policy documents, government documents, and then they’ll have the name, these goofy names of strains in. I think with dosage, I mean, and we’ve produced a book called How to Regulate Psychedelics: A practical Guide, it is coming out in a few weeks.

0:22:37.4 April Pride, host: Can someone that’s not a policymaker read it and…

0:22:39.7 SR: Yeah. It’s pretty, it’s written. We’re not assuming knowledge for people. It’s kind of targeting policy makers, but policy makers who don’t know anything about psychedelics as far as well.

0:22:49.7 April Pride, host: Great. Okay. That makes sense.

0:22:50.2 SR: It’s a regulatory textbooky type thing. It’s not gonna be the one you read in the hammock…

0:22:54.4 April Pride, host: And you may understand.

0:22:55.6 SR: It’s not one you read in a hammock on a hammock down at the beach, on holiday or it won’t be on sale in airports and things. But we do talk about dose in that. I think dose needs to be related to health, and risk information on packaging. I think you should have units so you can do incremental, control your dosing sort of increments. I would’ve thought with mushrooms, maybe two grams is quite… I think you should have them in units from a kind of threshold dose, and have it increments from there. And two grams is quite, is well over a threshold dose. That’s a pretty chunky dose.

0:23:30.4 April Pride, host: So when you say in units, do you mean in one package, you’d have a 250 milligram dose? And then a five, you could pour all 250 and you just keep adding?

0:23:40.2 SR: Well yeah, that 200, that two grams, it might be in like four units or five units or something like that. So you could say I want a small one, a medium one or a bigger one. I mean, three grams is kind of a… Three grams is a big-ish dose. One gram’s kind of thresholdy. So two grams is somewhere in between the miso dose. But as long as dosage is related to information at point of sale and on packaging saying, these are the likely effects if you have this dose, if you want to have a lower dose, have half or a quarter. Maybe if you make the product easily divisible like pills that you could split.

0:24:19.9 SR: I’m not saying that, but and there will be pill form psilocybin as well. Presumably, or tincture, you can have one drop, two drops, three drops. Or capsules, you can have one or two or three. Each capsule would probably be a sort of threshold dose and you could decide to have two, three, four, whatever. So I think dosage is important, because it’s a key variable in the experience and obviously the risk and people need to be able to make informed choices, and having unit dosages that relate to risk and safety and effective information. I mean, not necessarily bad things to have bigger dose. Some people want that. But you wanna be able to make those informed decisions.

0:24:57.7 April Pride, host: I have one last question. So, as I said, I’m working within this decriminalized framework, and the idea is that I can move into other municipalities that have decriminalized, and work with local cultivators, create these educational events and do this around North America really. And I think this is gonna move really fast. And I’m curious what you’re saying, ’cause people are, and I’m not… It doesn’t feel like that’s the.

0:25:23.6 SR: I mean, it feels like that here because there’s 10,000 trippers in a conference hall, and they’re all talking about it. When you’re in the halls of power, as it were, so in policy makers, it doesn’t feel like that. So these things are gonna collide and there will be a period of messy stuff and they’re sometimes, two steps forward, one step back. I think it probably will move quite fast in as far as if you think cannabis moved pretty fast. I’m using kind of cosmic timescale here. And turning to…

0:25:52.9 April Pride, host: It’s the hand that’s been working on this for 25 years?

0:25:54.3 SR: Exactly. But like 10 years ago, nowhere in the world had legalized cannabis. Today, you’ve got 21 states or 22 is it now? You’ve got Mexico, Canada, Columbia nearly legalized cannabis last… Yesterday or day before yesterday. But probably will in the next year. You’ve got South Africa, you’ve got Thailand, you’ve got five or six countries, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Malta, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, in Europe. There’s a domino effect that’s happened. And then to some states in Australia, there was a referendum in New Zealand and narrowly lost. It’s moving all over the place on every continent and 10 years ago, there was nothing. So I think the fact that you’ve had Colorado, Oregon and a couple of, and all these first…

0:26:36.9 April Pride, host: Australia.

0:26:37.2 SR: Few municipalities… Well Australia’s medical…

0:26:37.9 April Pride, host: That’s true.

0:26:38.3 SR: Sort of slightly different. Well, I bet, and some of these… And then there are these ones like Colorado, it’s kind of ambiguous med. It’s framed medically, but actually there’s people selling kits there. And if you want to just buy one and grow some shrooms and use them however you want, like recreationally, spiritually, whatever you can. I think it probably will move quite fast. It’s interesting. Actually, psychedelics generally have not been a big law enforcement priority. If you look at the data, certainly in the UK, I was looking to the data and there was like seven LSC prosecutions in 2019 compared to like 1200 for amphetamines and about 3000 for heroin. And they’re all class A drugs like Schedule 1 equivalent. Schedule 1, the police just don’t care about psychedelics because there’s no significant kind of criminal activity associated with them, apart from the fact that they’re illegal. And there’s no public health crisis to worry about. People aren’t committing crime to buy mushrooms.

0:27:33.0 April Pride, host: Okay.

0:27:33.3 SR: So it’s a really low police priority, which makes me think it’s probably a really low political priority to push back on it. And there’s probably not that much mileage in it. How much can we hype this up as a kind of, ooh, big drug threat that some politician can then come and sort of preen and prance sort of prohibitionist credentials to crack down on. So I don’t know. I sort of worry that we’re regulating the sort of safe drugs first, safer drugs first. And in a way, the public health pragmatist argument would argue, no, we should regulate the really dangerous ones first, ’cause that’s where the big win is gonna be. I mean at 70,000 fentanyl deaths in the US last year, really we should be regulating opioids. Get to address that.

0:28:15.2 April Pride, host: They are regulated.

0:28:16.3 SR: Well, I mean…

0:28:17.1 April Pride, host: That’s what got us into this mess.

0:28:19.2 SR: You should let me regulate them properly. Let me regulate. Proper substitute prescribing and access and supervised consumption and testing and harm reduction and blah, blah, blah all that stuff we can…

0:28:33.2 April Pride, host: And not taking doctors to golf resorts and, yeah.

0:28:35.9 SR: No, no. If you give me a quarter of the DA’s opioid overdose prevention budget, and absolute power and I could reduce the overdose deaths by 90% in like a year. It’s just not that hard. It’s just not that hard.

0:28:51.5 April Pride, host: That’s really unfortunate that if it’s that simple, that all of these people…

0:28:56.0 SR: Well it went up that… I mean, it went up tenfold in like five years ’cause of fentanyl. So we just have to manage… That’s the reality. We have to manage it. You can’t, there isn’t an enforcement response to this. The enforcement is what created that problem in the first place by incentivizing more risky products that are more profitable on ease of traffic and all the rest of it. We don’t have those issues with psychedelics. People don’t get addicted to them. People don’t die from them. Okay, I’m sure you can find some stories somewhere, but generally people that… People say I might have accidents once in a while or there might be some ibogaine issues, but generally speaking, people aren’t dying of magic mushrooms. I mean we had… Interestingly, we had legal magic mushrooms in the UK from 2003 to 2005. So someone discovered this loophole where fresh magic mushrooms weren’t covered by our legislation. And got some official confirmation of this at which point, shops were like, Brilliant. And they just started selling them, selling fresh magic mushroom. So within a few months, magic mushroom sales proliferated across the whole country.

0:29:57.0 April Pride, host: Okay.

0:29:58.8 SR: And then, it all got a bit out of hand predictably, ’cause it wasn’t properly regulated. And then a few people got uppity about it, and it was shut down a couple years later. So there was then made class A, Schedule 1 life in prison. Not that that happens, but… And I actually looked, I did some research looking into what the public health footprint of that period was. It’s like, okay, was there a spike in mushroom related deaths? Like no, there weren’t any. Was there a spike in A&E admissions? No, the data wasn’t even collated. Was there an increase in use? It’s, oh, well there was actually a bit of an increase in use, but there was a drop in LSD use, a bit of an increase in mushroom use. Those trends had been happening before mushrooms were legal and they buried more since they were banned. So it’s like, how much can we read into that? Basically there wasn’t the… What I found was nothing, there was no public… If there had been a public health impact of having legal mushrooms.

0:30:51.2 April Pride, host: The numbers would show. Yeah, yeah.

0:30:53.0 SR: Something would’ve been registered on some public health surveillance data, and there was nothing. And I said, even with a completely unregulated ridiculous market, where you could just walk into these headshot that sell pipes and papers and stuff and get magic mushrooms, nothing bad happened. I mean yes…

0:31:11.3 April Pride, host: I would like to know the… I think qualitative research needs to happen because maybe a lot of good things happened.

0:31:16.8 SR: Right. Yeah. You see the thing is, regulators and policy makers kind of understandably preoccupied with risk management, rather than benefit maximisation. I think it’s really a good point you make. And I kind of think the risk management and regulation is probably that is the appropriate role of regulators and that the benefit maximisation is more of a kind of community social…

0:31:39.2 SR: Oh, yeah. Interesting.

0:31:40.6 April Pride, host: Duty or the responsibility. I think it’s a reasonable approach to make. But you could see, I think you could certainly make an argument that regulators could be seeking to maximise benefits as well. But they might see that in more kind of policy terms like…

0:31:55.1 April Pride, host: I feel like in palliative care that might come up.

0:31:58.4 SR: Yeah. But then you’re in medical space again, therapeutic space.

0:32:00.7 April Pride, host: And they’re just trying to make sure that the risk is [0:32:02.5] ____.

0:32:02.5 SR: Yeah. The multiple obvious therapeutic benefits from psychedelics, and there’s all this research that they’re talking about here. There’s all this amazing new work coming out, and showing how they benefit for this, that and the other. And there’s a presentation on anorexia this afternoon and there’s trauma and PTSD and all that stuff. That’s all great, but it’s kind of different from the stuff that we are talking about, which is the non-medical use. And our thing is like 95% of psychedelic use isn’t therapeutic medical stuff.

0:32:33.5 SR: Totally. Yeah.

0:32:33.8 April Pride, host: It’s people having fun in festivals and going to parties and going to gigs and just having a laugh in the park. But the fact there’s no money behind that, the fact that you don’t have some rich tech bros, kind of wanting to… And these sort of glossy Sunday supplement mag… The endless stream of glossy magazine features about the amazing potential psychedelics for mental health and all the rest of it. You’ve got 95% of the psychedelic use, but it gets about 5% of the attention. So for us, an hour this new book we’re writing, which is free to download, by the way, I’m not trying to sell it. Is…

0:33:11.0 April Pride, host: You should try to sell it if you want to too. [laughter]

0:33:12.3 SR: Well, you can buy, if you want to buy copy, you’re welcome. But we are also selling it free. It’s trying to sort of rebalance that discussion a bit and just… And people can come and disagree with what we are proposing, and that’s fine. But we need to be…

0:33:25.8 April Pride, host: But you’re operating in reality?

0:33:27.2 SR: Yeah, you need to be talking about it. And we’re not at the moment enough. ‘Cause even in Colorado, I’ve been talking to some of the Colorado regulators the last few days. It’s very much framed in a therapeutic, healing centers, and plant medicines and the non-medical bit is kind of all nudge, nudge, wink, wink within the decrim space. So you can buy your stupid bag of sterilised oatmeal or whatever the hell that is. That you squirt the spores into, and then you leave it on your windowsill of… There’s about 20 stalls in the… You’ve seen them right?

0:33:58.8 April Pride, host: Oh, yeah.

0:34:00.0 SR: There’s about 20 stalls selling those kits.

0:34:00.2 April Pride, host: ‘Cause that’s the only thing you can sell legally.

0:34:03.4 SR: Right. So what you’ve got is you can sell mushrooms, but they’re kind of delayed. You have to wait five weeks before you can have them. But they’re selling them, but they’re not selling them. So it is actually kind of like, “Oh, come on, just let’s grow up and just let people sell them.”

0:34:18.9 April Pride, host: Well, I’m also selling them but not selling them.

0:34:21.8 SR: Right. And there are people selling them, then selling them and not selling there as well. You can get chocolate…

0:34:26.7 SR: Oh.

0:34:26.9 April Pride, host: We’re doing free samples of chocolate ’cause we can’t sell them, but you can make a donation. That sounds kind of like sales day. It sounds a lot. Or you can buy this t-shirt and you get your bag of mushrooms for free. It’s eh, it’s kind of like… But the fact that you’re pushing people into this space where they’re having to do these sort of loopholes and sort of stupid… It’s all so childish. It’s like if you are just selling mushroom, just sell mushroom. So you’ve got… Like Colorado’s got this medical system, and you’ve got regulators who are kind of having to setup medical systems, which is weird anyway ’cause it’s not within the medical frame, which is kind of not really their job, why should they be doing that? But then you’ve also got a non-medical market effectively nudge-nudge, wink-wink, non-medical market existing in parallel with the kits and all the other peripheral bits and bobs and all the kind of gray market people selling their caramels or whatever. So I kind of think if we’re at that point… I mean, I really want Colorado to succeed, ’cause if they do it and then they can say, “Look, actually, we had this semi-gray market for non-medical mushrooms and nothing bad has happened. And you might actually get falls in use of other drugs. So another thing that I’m quite interested in the recreational space is, low dose psychedelics kind of sort of sparkly dose rather than sort of Elvin folk of the forest, Elvin folk of the trees dose.


0:35:46.5 April Pride, host: Leprechauns.

0:35:47.0 SR: Yeah. And if you’ve sub leprechaun dose, it is actually quite a good substitute in micro-social settings for alcohol, cocaine.

0:35:56.9 April Pride, host: Alcohol. Yes. More dangerous or…

0:36:00.0 SR: More risky drugs.

0:36:01.1 April Pride, host: More risky drugs.

0:36:02.0 SR: It’d be good if we could have that conversation out in the open like adults and not all this arsing around with gifting and grow bags and calling it plant medicines in healing centers and all this sort of around it. But just like, “Let’s just acknowledge what it is and acknowledge that these are useful harm-reduction tools in social settings, as well as potentially beneficial to individuals and communities as well.” Let’s just have that conversation. And I mean, I asked a couple of the state senators in one of the policy sessions yesterday who were here talking about their medical programs. I got up and said, “Look, this is great.” I was basically saying, what I’ve just been saying to you, I said, “Look, 95% of use isn’t medical. Can you see an evolution of psychedelics in the same way that it’s happened with medical cannabis moving into recreational cannabis?”

0:36:45.3 SR: And they interestingly said, “Yes”, they acknowledged that they were essentially supportive of that, but that if they pursued it now, their medical programs would be in jeopardy. So there was a sort of political reality alongside the acknowledgement that it was a good idea.

0:37:02.3 April Pride, host: Okay.

0:37:02.3 SR: So it was kind of… It was actually refreshingly honest from them. They were saying, “Yes we… ” With the one guy who said, “Yes, I agree with that. And I would like to get there and have that discussion.” But at the moment, if I flag legalising mushrooms or whatever MDMA or something for non-medical use. Look at MDMA, like 99.9% of it is in recreational settings.

0:37:25.8 April Pride, host: Well, yeah.

0:37:27.1 SR: 999999%. It’s like the clinical MDMA is cleaning…

0:37:29.4 April Pride, host: We’ve been healing ourselves all these years in that way.

0:37:31.5 SR: Exactly. And there was a really brilliant presentation we went to yesterday that Sarah from Zendo Project should get her there. She was talking about recreational use and saying that therapeutic community can learn from the recreational scene, because the recreational scene can learn from the therapeutic community. And a lot of intention that you can combine sort of therapeutic and spiritual intentions along with your sort of head mystic pleasure seeking ones. That’s not a weird thing at all, and a lot of people do that. That those are discussions that we need to have and how they flow over into formally regulated legal availability as well, and access. ‘Cause people… You shouldn’t be forced to buy legally, but you also shouldn’t be forced to [0:38:12.7] ____.

0:38:13.2 April Pride, host: Go sit in a clinic and…

0:38:14.3 SR: Yeah, certainly not sit in a clinic with two therapists and…

0:38:17.2 April Pride, host: And $2000.

0:38:18.5 SR: Yeah, $3500 for your six hours bargain. [laughter]

0:38:22.5 April Pride, host: I know. Yeah. I know we have to start somewhere, but it’s just…

0:38:25.9 SR: Yeah, I mean when I saw that price list from Oregon, I was like, “You’re shitting me, three and a half grand.” And there is this thing of deserving and undeserving sort of drug users. And so you’ve got psilocybin, there’s a lot of talk about sort of psychedelic exceptionalism. It has some special status amongst drugs, other drugs which are… Don’t have the spiritual magic, and methamphetamine. It’s like, “No, they’re just drugs and they shouldn’t have special status.” But even within psychedelics users, you have…

0:38:56.9 April Pride, host: The hierarchy.

0:38:57.3 SR: The party users, second class citizens compared to the spiritual users who are second class citizens as compared to the medical users and within the medical users, the veterans, and get special status over other traumatized populations, because they’re veterans. And it’s like they not… It’s great veterans get PTSD treatment psychedelics, but there are a lot… There’s plenty of other traumatized populations who could benefit from that, who don’t have three and a half grand just to blow on their six hours and integration session.

0:39:25.7 April Pride, host: Totally.

0:39:26.4 SR: So there’s a lot to talk about. And it is good that these conversations are happening and that this conference is great in that respect. ‘Cause at least for all the reservations I have about, and some of the things that I felt are quite discomforting here, at least those things are being discussed even sometimes at the margins. But they are being discussed and those conversations are happening. So that’s…

0:39:43.1 April Pride, host: Yeah.

0:39:43.6 SR: It’s all good, it’s mostly good. [laughter]

0:39:45.8 April Pride, host: I think it’s mostly good. I think it’s… I don’t know. That’s an all fair…

0:39:49.6 SR: No, no it’s…

0:39:50.4 April Pride, host: In conversation maybe but…

0:39:52.3 SR: It’s good. When I get home back in the UK from this trip, although I’m going to Brazil first actually, I’m going to…

0:39:58.7 April Pride, host: Oh, great.

0:40:00.1 SR: Launch a cannabis book in Brazil. But the… When I get back, “How’s that massive covers that?” It’d be like, “It was pretty weird.” [laughter]

0:40:06.0 April Pride, host: It’s pretty weird. That’s my take on it.

0:40:07.9 SR: It’s pretty weird. There was some really cool stuff. There was some really disturbing stuff and literally everything in between. So that’s what I’ll take away.

0:40:14.9 April Pride, host: Well, I’m glad that you’re here, and that I got to meet you. Thank you for your time.

0:40:18.2 SR: My pleasure.

0:40:18.8 April Pride, host: I appreciate it.

Episode Credits

Producer & Host: April Pride

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