One of the most controversial figures in the psychedelic space has made a move. No one knows what to think of it, but everyone has something to say.
Decriminalize Nature— one of the most influential organizations in psychedelic policy change— took to Instagram this past weekend to announce that its co-founder, Carlos Plazola, had resigned from his position of board chair and president.
The organization’s founder and leader had both inspired devotion and burned a lot of bridges during his four years running the organization. Nevertheless, it was shocking to see the level of disdain and aggression that poured out of the psychedelic community into the comment section of the social media post announcing his departure from the organization.
Those who support Plazola took to their keyboards to defend him. One commenter compared him to Jesus on the cross. Another said: “…Cities wouldn’t have decriminalized without him. He started an international movement producing real results. This is more legacy than most of us could ever hope for…”
Others jumped into the mix to celebrate the departure of a leader who had created a lot of controversy for his strong-willed positions, saying: “About damn time! After all the chaos that man started, and you all let him run free for the last 4 years.”
One psychedelic activist in Oakland expressed his desire to reconnect with the movement now that Carlos is gone. “We would love to invite y’all to the upcoming Oakland conference. We had to defend ourselves and put distance between y’all and our community because of attacks made upon us by the departed! I look forward to repping y’all just as hard as I did before the person who will remain nameless chose to attack myself and Dr. Carl Hart.
Carlos himself replied to the discourse with a comment that read: “Well, ain’t that something. So much for departing on good terms. What’s with all the fear?”
Those with opposing views wasted no time jumping at each other’s throats. The words racist/supremacist and grifter were among the most popular insults.
How did a non-profit and its leader committed to increasing access to psychedelics manage to inspire such strong feelings of love and hate among its community? To answer that, let’s start from the beginning.
The Decriminalize Nature movement began back in 2018 in Oakland, California. After taking magic mushrooms for the first time, 50-year-old real estate developer and cannabis entrepreneur Carlos Plazola instigated what quickly became the Decriminalize Nature non-profit.
When Carlos entered the psychedelic space, he was no stranger to controversy. He was investigated by the Oakland Ethics Commission for allegedly lobbying for private real estate interests illegally while working as an aide for City Council Member Ignacio de la Fuente.
Despite some of the controversy surrounding Carlos’s role in Oakland politics, his connections helped Decriminalize Nature push its agenda rather quickly. The organization’s first big win came just six months after its inception when Oakland became one of the first cities in the US to decriminalize psychedelic plants.
After the win in Oakland, Decrim Nature began spreading rapidly as a decentralized psychedelic movement. The organization has played a role in decriminalizing psychedelic plants in cities across America. However, with this newfound fame came great responsibility and, yes, more controversy.
Carlos Plazola began to make enemies as a result of his strong opinions and what some called an abrasive communication style. One of the big debates that arose within Deciminalize Nature is whether or not Peyote should be included in decriminalization measures.
The mescaline-containing cactus, which has long been used by indigenous populations, takes a long time to grow and has been increasingly difficult to find in its natural habitat due to increased popularity. The argument— posed by the Native American Church— claims that this particular psychedelic plant should be left solely to the use of indigenous peoples. Carlos was adamant in opposing this idea.
While this argument has gotten many people passionately involved, it may not be as significant as the debate makes it sound. Whether you agree that peyote should be left out of decriminalization measures or not, there is an alternative to peyote that is actually more viable for large-scale use.
The South American San Pedro cactus grows far quicker than peyote and contains more mescaline, making it an easier option for access to natural mescaline. In addition, the cactus is legal to possess in the United States, and can actually be found growing in gardens across the country. That being said, it is still illegal to harvest the mescaline from a San Pedro cactus.
In addition to the Native American Church, Carlos has alienated other major activists in the psychedelic space. He has spoken out against several wealthy individuals who have donated significant amounts of money to the psychedelic movement. He has also been critical of one of the other major organizations pushing for psychedelic legalization— New Approach PAC.
Now, we aren’t here to give you a rundown of the he-said-she-said. Nor are we here to take sides in this heated debate. But rather point out the polarization happening within a group of people who ultimately want the same thing— for more people to have access to psychedelics.
This isn’t the first time that opposing opinions have turned to verbal aggression in the psychedelic industry. Just a few months ago, a group of activists interrupted Rick Doblin’s closing remarks at the Psychedelic Science Conference held by MAPS.
Healthy discourse about opposing views is not only acceptable but crucial to the development of a psychedelic space that aims to serve everyone as best it can. Jumping in the Instagram threads to chastise those we disagree with, however, is not going to help accomplish anything.
The fact that there are groups of people within the psychedelic community who feel unheard and are deeply dissatisfied with how the industry is developing is becoming increasingly clear. So, how do we reconcile these opposing views for the overall betterment of the psychedelic movement? The answer to this question can, perhaps, be found within the compounds that these fights are over.
Many people fighting to increase access to psychedelics are doing so because they themselves have had transformative experiences with these medicines. These experiences often open people’s hearts to have more compassion and love for themselves and the people they share this earth with. How this realization has led to fighting with strangers on social media is unclear. What is clear, however, is that a return to the core principles that the psychedelic movement was born from will help reconcile personal differences and create a better environment within the psychedelic community and beyond.