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Question: Is It Legal to Grow Psychedelic (Magic) Mushrooms?

Written by , Posted in Criminal Law

Answer: No, it is not legal to grow, sell or posses psychedelic mushrooms because psilocybin and psilocyn, the key psychoactive compounds in these mushrooms, are classified as Schedule I substances under law– the federal Controlled Substances Act.

However, it is perfectly legal to sell, purchase and own psilocybin mushroom spores because the spores themselves do not contain the controlled substances psilocybin or psilocyn and are therefore not regulated under the Controlled Substances Act (under ยง812. Schedules of controlled substances) or other laws.

Using injectable spores or swabs to inoculate and cultivate psychedelic mushroom “fruits” or even mycelium however is illegal regardless of the legal status of the spores themselves. Harvesting “caps and stems” can put you into felony territory, especially when done at scale. Mushroom grow bags and grow kits and paraphernalia can be bought and sold without any issues.

Growing Psychedelic Mushrooms and the Law

The law surrounding the cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms is a pretty complex issue, with federal and state laws that apply… At the federal level, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act classifies the key psychoactive compounds in magic/psychedelic mushrooms, psilocybin and psilocyn, as Schedule I substances. This means it’s illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess these compounds, and by extension, the mushrooms that contain them. Penalties for cultivation can include prison time and hefty fines!

However, the legal status of the spores that give rise to these mushrooms is a bit more nuanced in our opinion. A recent letter from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has clarified that the spores themselves, as long as they don’t contain psilocybin or psilocyn, are not controlled under the Controlled Substances Act. But before you rush out to buy a spore kit, be aware that state laws can differ, with some explicitly banning the spores.

Are Psilocybin-containing Mushroom Spores Legal to Buy?

The legality of purchasing and possessing psilocybin “shroom” spores varies by jurisdiction, but generally, it is legal in many places to buy and own these spores. The primary reason for this is that the spores themselves do not contain psilocybin or psilocyn, the psychoactive compounds that are classified as controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act in the United States. Since psilocybin and psilocyn are the compounds that are regulated, and the spores do not contain them, the spores are not subject to the same legal restrictions.

However, once the spores are germinated and start to grow mycelium or mushroom “fruits,” they begin to produce psilocybin and psilocyn, thus becoming controlled substances.

Federal Legal Status of “Shrooms”

As you’d expect, under federal law, it’s unambiguously illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess the psychoactive compounds in psychedelic mushrooms, also known as “shrooms” or “mush.” This prohibition extends to several specific species, including psilocybe cubensis (commonly called Golden Teacher among aficionados) and psilocybe semilanceata. If you’re caught growing (even if you’re not selling) these mushrooms, you could face serious consequences:

  • Prison sentences ranging from a few years to decades, depending on the scale of the operation and your criminal history
  • Fines that can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • A permanent criminal record that can impact your employment, housing, and other aspects of your life

There have been several high-profile federal prosecutions related to psychedelic mushroom growing:

  1. Example psilocybinrelated Colorado Case (2021): In Colorado, federal prosecutors charged several individuals with conspiracy to cultivate and distribute psychedelic mushrooms across state lines. This operation was significant as it involved a large-scale distribution network, and the individuals faced serious charges with potential long-term prison sentences.
  2. Example psilocybinrelated California Case (2019): In 2019, a man in California was sentenced to prison for running a large-scale psychedelic mushroom cultivation and distribution network. The operation was substantial, and the prosecution emphasized the seriousness of distributing a Schedule I controlled substance.
  3. Example psilocybinrelated Military Case (2020): An Air Force Academy cadet faced a special court-martial for using psilocybin. Although he received a relatively light sentence due to a plea deal, it highlighted the strict enforcement policies within the military against the use of such substances.

These cases demonstrate the federal government’s commitment to prosecuting large-scale psilocybin mushroom operations, despite varying state-level decriminalization efforts.

State and Local Laws for Growing and Posession

While psychedelic mushrooms are off-limits under federal law, enforcement largely falls to state and local authorities. Some states have taken steps to decriminalize or deprioritize enforcement against mushroom cultivation:

Oregon has decriminalized possession of small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms (see official state government guide here), making it a civil infraction rather than a criminal offense. California has made possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms the lowest law enforcement priority. Colorado is considering legislation to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use.

At the city level, several jurisdictions have passed decriminalization measures:

Denver has made arresting people for psilocybin-containing mushroom offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. Oakland has decriminalized possession and cultivation of small amounts of psilocybin mushrooms.

However, it’s important to understand the limits of these measures. They don’t override federal law, and they usually only apply to small amounts for personal use. Commercial cultivation remains prohibited.

Exceptions for Research and Religious Use of Mushrooms

There are a couple of narrow exceptions to the federal prohibition on psilocybin mushroom cultivation. The first is for DEA-approved research studies. Scientists can apply for permission to cultivate mushrooms for research purposes, but the process is onerous and the restrictions are tight. [Include an example of a research study involving mushroom cultivation, if available.]

The second exception is for religious use. Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, certain groups can seek exemptions to use psychedelic mushrooms as part of their spiritual practices. However, the bar to qualify for this exemption is high, and only a handful of groups have successfully obtained this status. [Include an example of a religious group that has received an exemption, if available.]

As our UTSA law professor noted, “These exceptions are important for advancing scientific understanding and protecting religious liberty, but they’re extremely narrow. For the average person wanting to grow psychedelic mushrooms, they don’t offer much relief.”

Risks and Precautions

If you’re considering growing psilocybin mushrooms, it’s crucial to understand the risks. Even in states and cities that have decriminalized, you could still face legal consequences, especially if you’re cultivating large amounts or selling them. A conviction can lead to jail time, steep fines, and a criminal record that follows you for life, impacting your ability to find employment, secure housing, and access government benefits.

Before you embark on any mushroom-related activities, take the time to thoroughly understand the law in your area. Consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can advise you on the specific risks and how to mitigate them. And remember, just because something is decriminalized doesn’t mean it’s legal or risk-free (always think, “could a DA or persecutor find a gray area or loophole to convict me?” In most cases you won’t know, which is where an experienced lawyer’s input and help is needed).

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it legal to buy psilocybin mushroom spores for microscopy purposes?
    Yes. Psilocybin mushroom spores are not controlled under federal law, however some states do prohibit them (such as the liberal golden state of California, believe it or not). But even in states where they’re legal, buying them with the intent to cultivate psychedelic/magic mushrooms is illegal. If you’re purchasing for legitimate microscopy purposes, be sure to check your local laws and only buy from reputable vendors.
  • What happens if I’m caught growing a small amount of mushrooms for personal use?
    The consequences depend on your location and the specifics of your case. In states and cities that have decriminalized, you may face a civil fine or have your mushrooms confiscated. In areas without decriminalization, you could be charged with a felony and face prison time.
  • Are there any countries where growing psychedelic mushrooms is legal?
  • Very few. In most countries, psilocybin mushrooms are illegal to cultivate, possess, and distribute. There are a couple exceptions:
  • In Brazil, mushrooms are legal to possess and consume, but sales and extractions are prohibited.
  • In Jamaica, psychedelic mushrooms are legal and unregulated.
  • In the Netherlands, psychedelic truffles (sclerotia) are legal and sold openly in smart shops.
    However, even in these countries, it’s important to be aware of the specific laws and exercise caution.
  • Can I grow my own magic mushrooms if I have a medical prescription?
    Currently, there are no medical prescriptions available for psilocybin mushrooms in the United States. While there’s promising research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, it remains a Schedule I drug and is not approved for medical use. Even with a prescription from another country, cultivating psychedelic mushrooms in the U.S. would be illegal under federal law.
  • What should I do if I’m charged with growing psilocybincontaining mushrooms?
    If you find yourself facing charges related to psychedelic mushroom cultivation, the most important thing is to secure a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately. Look for someone with experience in drug cases who understands the complexities of the law in your area. Be honest with your attorney and follow their advice closely. Remember, anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you, so it’s best to remain silent until you have legal representation.

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