Creating Scarcity by Desecrating the Sacred
Step 1: Set Limits for the People
The Sacred Under Attack
What is “sacred”?
Most definitions constrain the definition to religious contexts, but for those with a deep connection to nature, existence, and the beauty of life, a good definition, and the one I use here is “the recognition that all things are inter-connected, and therefore, impact each other”.
This inter-connectedness in all things is a commonly reported experience from those who use entheogens, or sacred plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and DMT; especially when approached with reverence, gratitude, and humility. The connection one feels to the earth, other living things, and one’s own awareness is often described as sacred and fills one with an overwhelming sense of love toward all of creation. So, when Decriminalize Nature vowed in 2019 to fight for the sacred, and “Restore our Roots” (our tagline), we were specifically referring to our recognition that we must restore our connections to the earth and to all life in such a way that we advocate for our unalienable human right to engage on our own sovereign terms with nature’s entheogenic gifts.
From this vantage point, the idea that another human or government can intervene in this unalienable and sacred birthright seems ludicrous, as ludicrous as if the government suddenly suggested it would control and limit the number of times a parent could hug their child. Few things seem as fundamentally sovereign as seeking to heal one’s mental health trauma or explore ones consciousness with plants and fungi that grow naturally from the ground.
Over the last 500 years, we have seen an increasing immersion of humans into an ocean of extractive commodification and associated behaviors that act from fear to desecrate the sacred. Sacred lands are mined and run over with development. Sacred children are put into cages. Sacred lives are snuffed out right before our eyes on video. Sacred cultures, with extremely rare world views, are encroached on and decimated. Sacred forests are bulldozed. We see it happening every day, but like the frog in the pot of water coming to a slow boil, it is difficult to make the daily connections that our species is boiling itself alive. And even harder to know what to do about it on any given day as any effort to change the massive tsunami of the extractive capitalist machine feels miniscule compared to the need.
But we can do something. We can stand our ground for the sacred. It is true that corporate capitalism, the original artificial intelligence which acts selfishly only to advance profiteering, always chooses greed over the sacred. It is hungry and thriving, but it’s soft underbelly is susceptible to public pressure. Social media has given all of us a new tool to hold this beast accountable and force the inclusion of the sacred into its bottom lines.
The corporate executives, while eager to externalize as many costs and liabilities in their financial statements onto the commons--be it desecration of sacred lands, low wages, lack of health care, oil spills, or air pollution—are increasingly vulnerable to you and I as we become skilled at using social media to bear witness to their transgressions.
This is my intention with this blog post: to bear witness to the shenanigans I’ve seen performed by profiteers in their efforts to maximize profiteering off of our sacred plants by eroding the sacred, to eventually create scarcity for you and I in our direct relationship to nature. The intention is to expand their own abilities to profit from the same plants our government declared war against 50 years ago, and persecuted land-based peoples around the world for the last 3,000 years.
Now that scientific reductionism and medical experts have discovered what our ancestors have known for thousands of years, they will soon “allow” us to have limited amounts of these same sacred plants and fungi, while corporations line up to push out of the compounds found in these same plants and fungi from their storefronts, websites, medical buildings, and therapeutic offices, wrapped in small plastic packages with instructions attached so that we may safely consume them for a healthy price.
The Sacred has been under attack for hundreds of years and sacrificed under the banner of “progress”. As reductionists found ways to monetize by dividing the connections that bind all, putting in the asset column all that is financially valuable, and throwing away all that is not, we have seen the demise of our connections to community, to nature, to our elders and our ancestors, and even to our highest selves. Like the frog in the slowly boiling water, we’ve become immune to the process, experiencing shock when we see the wave of this erosion of the sacred collapse into a peak singularity moment of children crying in cages, or a man’s life surrendered under a suffocating knee. And this same erosion is now happening to our sacred plants, as we are sold a bill of goods that we are lucky to receive even limited amounts to plants which our ancestors died for using. And so will begin the process of desecrating the sacred, once again. Unless we jump out of the pot, and bear witness to what is happening.
Shining the light
The greatest threat to those who seek to erode our human rights is to shine the light on the actions of those who seek to benefit from the denial of these rights; to bear witness; to speak and share with the community the knowledge found. With this knowledge in hand, we can then take corrective action as a collective community, with growing power in the marketplace and the political arena to resist.
The act of setting limits, of any kind, on our personal relationship with natural sacred plants at the SB519 hearing of the Health Committee of July 13, 2021 of the CA State Assembly is the beginning of the process to erode what is a sacred and unalienable human right borne of thousands of years of human practice with the plants, and to turn it into a relationship of commodification and scarcity.
Beyond the erosion of the sacred, setting limits on amounts for personal use is just another way of clarifying to law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys when they can arrest and successfully prosecute, something we know most often hurts those in low-income communities, and communities-of-color in the US. There are no good, humane reasons for setting limits on the personal relationship with natural plant and fungi since they’re known to be among the safest mental health healing materials available. A search for news clippings before the War on Drugs was launched reveals few, if any, reported emergencies or catastrophes related to people’s use of entheogenic plants and fungi.
The beneficiaries of setting limits on amounts will be the profiteers who will benefit from the scarcity as we can be sure they will not seek limits on their own ability to sell us back these medicines in pill form.
This is how extractive capitalism works. Elected officials appreciate or accept controls as they seek to mitigate risk of re-election or gain support for higher office. The profiteers push limits to increase profits by creating scarcity for you and me. Both groups preying on irrational fear. This Faustian bargain between those in centralized power, used against those of decentralized power (you and I), has been standard operating procedure for the last 200 years since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and for the last 500+ years if we consider the relationship between profiteers and oligarchs and monarchies, and the financial lenders who backed them all.
Add to this process the complexification of the policy-making process, most of which is hidden from public view, enabling obfuscation and misdirection, tactics for those in power to wield over the busy populace. It’s hard enough to understand how a city council process works, let alone a state legislative process. A priest retains his power by mystifying the process of connecting with God. Scientists retain their priestly status by complicating, not simplifying, explanations. And so too, elected officials, government bureaucrats, and lobbyists retain their power and control by making policy-making more complicated and inaccessible. And the corporate-profiteers prey on this increasing complexity to obfuscate and keep hidden from public view the acts which harm the commons and desecrate the sacred.
It is truly an art-form, of which I became familiar with during my days as a legislator and a lobbyist. Gaming the system by building on the fundamentals of game theory, is the art-form of the lobbyist and the legislator. In this game, the ends always justify the means. One must win at all costs. And the means don’t care about the sacred or the impact on the commons. In this game, wining at all costs becomes paramount, its own objective. Protection of the sacred, consideration for love and compassion, and speaking for the most vulnerable are seen as weakness in a testosterone-driven game of ego-based winning.
The process of eroding our sacred relationship with the plant medicines that our ancestors were killed for using in ceremony over the last 3,000 years is underway. The tactics now being employed by the emerging psychedelic industrial complex of entangled government officials and capitalists have been honed for the last 500+ years, handed down from corporate leader to corporate leader.
But our ability to act and stand our ground for the sacred plants, for the planet that birthed us, and now offers us these plants and fungi in generosity, for the ancestors who lost their lives shepherding and stewarding these plants and fungi, relies on our vigilance, and for each of us to bear witness and disclose what we see. This is my intention in sharing this information with you.
The Implications of dividing that which is undividable
SB519 is the California state bill introduced into the Senate by Senator Scott Wiener, Democrat from San Francisco, initially touted to decriminalize psychedelics and sacred plants. On July 13th, 2021, the Chair of the Health Committee, Jim Wood, from the moderately democratic coast of northern CA, advanced an amendment to place limits on personal use of sacred plants if it was to pass his committee. There is evidence to suggest that the decision to create scarcity by setting limits was made by New Approach PAC (“New Approach”) represenatives as early as 6 months before the July 13th vote at the CA Health Committee on SB 519.
New Approach is a lobbying firm which is funded by venture capitalists who’ve accumulated wealth in various industries, including the cannabis industry, many of whom now seek to profit from synthesizing the compounds in sacred plants. I argue that the vote at Health Committee was a set-up by the lobbyists for the venture capitalists who are paying them, based on basic game theory, and a ruse to destabilize an abundance model which is a threat to their clients.
The act of setting limits on allowable amounts for any human activity (in this case on transport) in association with plants and fungi that grow naturally from the ground is intended to start the process of detaching these entheogenic plants and fungi from the concept of being a sacred human right which is unalienable.
This first step of eroding the idea that these plants and fungi are an unalienable human right opens the door to the eventual setting of further limitations. This first step of setting limits on transport, which New Approach PAC has argued was a political necessity, was likely orchestrated to undermine the concept of this relationship between humans and nature being sacred and off-limits to corporate control, thereby undermining an abundance model for consciousness healing.
In other words, one cannot commodify a sacred relationship which is unalienable. So, the first step is to desecrate the sacred by treating it as a commodity. Historical analysis reveals that the attitude of reductionism, on which commodification depends, toward the sacred, has always been a hostile one—the interconnectedness of the ecosystem being a sacrificial lamb at the altar of reductionism. But the hostility is unwarranted. All can co-exist, but only if we force the re-emergence of the sacred into corporate bottom-lines or re-election campaigns via public disclosure and public pressure. While corporate profits won’t be as large when we force the incorporation of the sacred into their financial statements, our human rights will be increasingly protected.
Consider that there will eventually be four primary modalities for engaging with these medicines:
Personal/Community Use Model: Without limits set, people can develop their relationship of abundance with these plants and fungi, individually or in community--growing, gathering, gifting, and sharing them as we might share tomatoes, oranges, or extra honey from the hobbyist’s beehive. Local economies could emerge if limits are not set much as local food economies have emerged based on food being decriminalized. But with limits proposed to be set, we can anticipate that these abundance models will be under threat.
Clinical Therapy Model: No limits will likely be set on amounts they can charge or amounts of services they can sell, enabling profiteering by groups that seek to sell synthetic psychedelics as part of a therapy model.
Medical model: there will be not likely be limits on amounts that pharmaceutical companies can sell through the medical industry.
Corporate model: As with cannabis, for-profit corporations will be allowed to package and sell us unlimited amounts.
Of the four modalities above, only personal use without limits can lead to the emergence of financially accessible models for the most marginalized members of our community because the grow-gather-gift-share approach enables free or low-cost sharing under an abundance model. The other three models will all eventually require pharmaceutical production to source the medicine due to required governmental controls.
The Vote to Set Limits was a Set-up
Evidence shows that the July 13, 2021 vote by the Health Committee to set limits on our personal relationship with sacred plants was a set-up.
In December 2020, just a few weeks after Senator Wiener announced he’d be introducing legislation to decriminalize psychedelics, I had a call with the lobbying firm representing Dr. Bronner’s Soap Company. Dr. Bronner’s, along with Miracle Gro and Privateer Holdings, are three of the largest investors in the New Approach PAC lobbying firm that passed the corporate framework of Prop 64 in CA, which has been broadly criticized for marginalizing people of color from business opportunities in cannabis.
The lobbyist I spoke with explained that leaders of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies) and New Approach PAC had been meeting with Senator Wiener behind the scenes to consider language for decriminalize psychedelics weeks before Wiener announced that the bill would be introduced. The announcement was made on November 10, 2020.
On the December 2020 phone call, seven months before the vote at Health Committee, the lobbyist asked me if Decriminalize Nature could get behind setting limits for personal use of plants and fungi. I informed the lobbyist that this went against our ethos and was a threat to our abundance model, and therefore we would not support setting limits on people’s personal relationship with things that grow from the ground. I explained that through our education campaigns we had obtained what was at that time 100% support of the elected officials who voted in the three cities (Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor) that had passed decriminalize nature resolutions. If they were concerned about limits being set by committee members, we must start educating the assembly members right away, I suggested.
This education effort never occurred. In fact, DN was actively blocked from engaging in strategic sessions that could have led to the education of the assembly members about why setting limits for personal use of natural plants and fungi was unnecessary and a bad idea. To our knowledge, no education campaigns of this kind ever occurred, in any significant and impactful way.
I also suggested on the call that limits were unnecessary as we had found that an hour of education with a given elected official about the low-risks, the high benefits, the accessibility, the science, and the human rights associated with ancestral connections, had enabled us to get a unanimous support at city councils across the US (within two months we would get nearly unanimous support at three more city councils—Somerville, Cambridge, and Northampton—with 29 out of 30 voting in support). Education worked with these plants and fungi more than any other issue I’d seen while working as a lobbyist for six years and a legislative aide for eight years.
But this phone call did tip me off that the lobbyists and their clients might be gunning for limits. It just wasn’t clear at the time what their game plan was. Three and a half months later, on April 12th, we learned that an associate of New Approach PAC were also trying to slip limits into entheogenic decriminalization language in a resolution in Portland, Oregon. The DN leadership in Portland had to call out an associate of New Approach PAC multiple times for quietly inserting the words “in quantities sufficient to…”.
What was strange about this was that no councilmember on the Portland City Council, to the best of our knowledge, had even asked for limits to be set. So, the idea of setting limits was voluntarily inserted by this associate of New Approach PAC. After our DN Portland team shined the light of accountability on this as being unacceptable, the language on limits was removed. (We continue to watch closely to ensure this language is not slipped back in).
From February to July 1, 2021, all seemed to be going smoothly on SB519, with no mention of limits for personal use of plants and fungi. Our leadership repeatedly asked the Senator’s office, directly and through our lobbyist, where our education efforts could be helpful. As the Health Committee vote approached in early July 2021, we received a call from DN’s infuriated lobbyist on July 1st complaining that he had been cut out of communications between the Senator’s aide, the health committee consultant, and New Approach PAC and MAPS legal team and lobbyists, and that limits on entheogens had been recommended.
We were disappointed. Any lobbyists worth their weight in salt knows it is critical to meet with all committee chairs early in the process to gather their concerns and develop an education plan. Education is a critical and core tool of any lobbyist to prevent unfavorable amendments to bills the lobbyist tracks. Unfriendly amendments must be met early with a high degree of education of the voting members. For the experienced lobbyists of New Approach to suddenly be surprised just days before the vote (especially given that the very same committee chair had required limits on cannabis for personal use 5 years earlier) seemed a bit too orchestrated.
They had to have known that the Chair of the Health Committee, Assembly Member Jim Wood, and his committee would be requiring limits as early as February, but certainly as early as June 3rd, the day after the item transferred to the Assembly from the Senate floor. Had we been made aware of this desire for limits, we could have begun our education efforts as early as June 3nd, assuming we could have received the support of Senator Wiener to open the doors for us to meet with his assembly colleagues on the health committee. We would have sat with every one of the fifteen assembly members on the Health Committee, if given the opportunity, to explain why limits on personal relationships between sacred plants and people would only hurt marginalized communities, while creating greater opportunities for profiteering by corporate interests at the expense of the populace.
Our DN leadership saw through this gamesmanship. We demanded a meeting with the consultant to the Chair of the health committee, which we had on July 6th, just one week before the critical vote. At the start of the meeting, the consultant expressed her position that limits were necessary for public safety. Only 30 minutes later, our arguments had caused her to shift to being sympathetic, with her agreeing with us that parking the bill until 2022 to educate the members of the health committee about why limits were not needed would be a wise choice. By parking the bill for one year, we advocated changing the bill from a one-year bill to a two-year bill, something worthwhile to protect the unalienable human right to sacred plants.
Despite communicating this to Senator Wiener, and to the leadership of MAPS and New Approach PAC, they all stood steadfast that for some reason unbeknownst and unshared with our community, the bill had to be expedited through as a one-year bill, thereby forcing limits.
It is my belief that setting limits on amounts on our personal relationship with entheogenic plants and fungi has always been New Approach PAC’s goal. It was a goal in cannabis legislation efforts when New Approach PAC pushed legalization policies in at least 10 states. It was a goal in Oregon’s 109. And recently again in Portland’s entheogen decriminalization resolution pushed by associates of New Approach PAC in April 2021. And I believe, based on what I’ve witnessed, that it was their goal with SB519. And if New Approach PAC comes to your city or state, it is likely they will be seeking to set limit with your relationship to sacred plants as well.
Where we go from here
They will tell you that “limits” are a politically expedient necessity. They’re not. We’ve proven this by getting 53 out of 54 councilmember votes to date to support our resolutions without limits for personal use through education campaigns in various cities throughout the US.
They’ll tell you that legislating at the state level is different than local cities. Other than the greater ability to obfuscate and hide things from the public, it’s not. Humans are humans. It only means more education is necessary, which is why it’s also important to take the time to educate members of elected office and to pass these decriminalization resolutions city by city, to build alliance with the local elected officials, who can then become part of the education process of the state elected officials.
In truth, if New Approach PAC corporate investors, Senator Scott Wiener, or MAPS had wanted an abundance model, they’d have joined Decriminalize Nature in working to educate elected members of the state early on, not shut us out at a critical time when education was most needed. And they would have started this education process of the health committee members as early as June 3rd, rather than waiting until the week before the Health Committee hearing to raise this issue.
But the path to success is widening for the Decriminalize Nature movement. Transparency has been one of our fundamental tools from the beginning. We win this struggle for human rights and for living in good relationship with our planet and our plant allies by being aware of the tactics and strategies of those who seek only to profit from these sacred plants. We win the struggle by being aware of who the deep pockets are, and by resisting the small philanthropic donations they make to silence us or distract us from the billionaires now circling to pillage the plants for which our ancestors paid the highest price.
We win this struggle one city at a time. Educating one elected leader at a time. We win this struggle by speaking of compassion, abundance, and human rights, as well as scientific evidence, low-risk, and ancestral use. We win this struggle with fortitude, endurance, and tenacity; never relenting.
While they may call us naïve because we believe we can resist compromise on the sacred, I believe it is they who are naïve for believing we can somehow survive on this planet as a species, with each other, when everything around us is just a commodity, where fear is king, where love is a weakness, and nothing is sacred.
It is the sacred which binds us to each other and makes us whole.
Carlos Plazola is Chair of the Board of Decriminalize Nature National. He has a BS degree in Biology and Anthropology from UCLA, and a master’s degree in Environmental Science from Yale University. He worked for five years as a social and environmental justice activist from 1993 to 1998, eight years as a political organizer and legislative analysis from 1998 to 2006, six years as a lobbyist until 2012, and now runs a construction company building housing in Oakland. Several sacred plant experiences in 2018 and 2019 enabled him to heal from childhood trauma and re-connect with the sacred that had eluded him. His volunteer work with Decriminalize Nature is a spiritual journey in gratitude for the gifts given to him by the sacred ancestral plant allies. He has been married for 24 years and has three adult children. He enjoys beekeeping and perma-culture, seeking to create abundance to share with those he loves.