Campaign to legalize magic mushrooms launched by Monterey County man

LONDON - JULY 18: Magic Mushrooms sit in a fridge on July 18, 2005 in London, England. The sale of fresh mushrooms has been prohibited as of today due to the reclassification of the drug to Class A. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Just six weeks before marijuana becomes legal in California, a Northern California man has launched a different drug legalization campaign.

Kevin Sauvders, who also happens to be running for mayor of Marina in Monterey County, has begun collecting the 365,000 valid signatures needed to put a measure to legalize psychedelic mushrooms on next year’s ballot.

Saunders is a 47-year-old former heroin addict who says a mushroom trip in Death Valley 15 years ago helped him "reset," become more introspective, and ultimately kick the addiction.

He’s also a self-described “pot head” who believes the same Californians who approved legalizing cannabis last year will be on board to decriminalize mushrooms.

"It’s a natural progression from marijuana legalization," he said during a recent interview with KTVU. “We believe there is so much interest in this.”

The measure, which would decriminalize the use, possession, sale, transport and cultivation of mushrooms for adults over 21, would need a majority to pass in November 2018.

The U.S. government classifies psilocybin containing mushrooms in the same category as heroin and LSD. And though it’s not known how many Californians take magic mushrooms, no county listed hallucinogenics as a major drug problem, according to a 2015 survey by the California Mental Health Planning Council.

Saunders, who said he has only taken the drug twice since kicking heroin, said mushrooms have a wide appeal with everyone from “soccer moms” to the Burning Man community to college students.

One reason: Saunders claims there’s a cultural fascination with mushrooms in art (cave paintings from Algeria), food (truffles) movies ("Alice in Wonderful"), and even video games (Mario Brothers).

He also believes the drug has medicinal properties that will help others kick drugs, relieve anxiety and depression, and even become more insightful. 

Some research suggests he might be right.

Two separate clinical trials involving people with anxiety and depression as a result of  life threatening cancer combined the drug with psychotherapy. The results showed that between 60 and 80 percent of the patients showed  “substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety.”

Even after six months, the changes were sustained, with a majority of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety, the study says.

Even for those not battling cancer, there seems to be an appeal.

A June survey conducted by YouGov, showed that 63 percent of respondents said they would be willing to use psilocybin themselves if it were proven to be a safe treatment for depression or anxiety.

“This could revolutionize medicine,’’ said Saunders.

But there are plenty of detractors as well.

Charles Grob, a UCLA psychiatrist, who led a study exploring the safety and efficacy of psychedelic mushrooms in patients with advanced-stage cancer and anxiety, does not believe legalizing the drug is the right way to go. 

"We're just scratching the surface in regards to our knowledge of psilocybin," he told the L.A. Weekly. "It may be of great benefit to some but harmful to others."

Tom and Sheri Eckert, who head the Oregon Psilocybin Society, a group pushing for Oregon voters to decide on legalizing medical mushrooms in 2020, are not iin favor of the measure.

“As the current California initiative does not adhere to careful standards developed over many years, we do not support it,'' they said in a statement. 

Saunders won't likely be deterred. He said he's willing to give up his inheritance, his share of a medical marijuana company and drop the run for mayor, to get the initiative on the ballot. "I feel this is the best thing I could do for humanity,'' he said.