Two arrests for selling psilocybin mushrooms made within the city limits of Arcata involving local police officers were in line with the local resolution decriminalizing personal use of the substances, according to law enforcement authorities.
The Humboldt County Drug Task Force, an agency operating under the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office in coordination with other local police departments in the city, reported an undercover drug purchase operation to the Arcata Plaza carried out on Thursday which resulted in two arrests for selling methamphetamine at a motel a few blocks from the Plaza, and two more arrests on South G Street for selling psilocybin mushrooms after officers were put in contact with the potential seller.
The operation was a collaborative effort between Arcata police, the drug task force, and the sheriff’s office.
“Due to a number of complaints I received regarding narcotics trafficking in the plaza, I asked the sheriff’s office if they could instruct the (Humboldt County Drug Task Force) to conduct an undercover operation,” Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn told The Times. Standard, adding that the operation was aimed at the sale of drugs and not the possession of mushrooms for personal use.
DTF Sergeant. Matt Tomlin explained a little more about the details of the operation.
“The APD provided us with two officers who made up the arrest team. So when people were selling drugs to undercover drug task force officers, two police officers from Arcata would come and arrest those people,” Tomlin said.
The operation may appear to some to conflict with a resolution that Arcata City Council passed unanimously at its regular meeting on October 6 decriminalizing the use and possession of entheogenic plants and substances – such such as psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline, peyote buds and LSD, among others – by people 21 years of age or older.
Specifically, the resolution no longer prioritizes the use of city resources to enforce laws imposing criminal penalties for use and possession. However, this does not prevent the ministry from cracking down on the use and possession of entheogens while engaging in other criminal activities.
“The City Council of the Town of Arcata hereby declares that the investigation and arrest of persons for the planting, cultivation, purchase, transport, distribution, engagement in practices with or the possession of entheogenic plants and fungi or plant compounds that are on the Federal Schedule 1 list shall not be a public safety priority for the City of Arcata; and that only limited City funds and resources be used to investigate, detain, arrest, or prosecute an alleged violation of federal and state law regarding the use of entheogenic herbs by a person 21 years of age or older when other code violations are present such as such as public disturbance, driving under the influence, drinking in the presence of minors, or endangering public safety,” reads Section A of the resolution.
The resolution was developed by entheogenic decriminalization advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Humboldt.
Ahearn believes the department’s involvement in the operation is consistent with the resolution.
“This requires that we use limited resources and the resolution is for possession for personal use, not for sale. This operation was to identify sellers, not users,” the head of the ODA.
The Humboldt County Drug Task Force is not bound by the Arcata resolution.
“It was an operation based on the sale of narcotics, and thanks to the work of the drug task force, they have developed information on these people involved in the sale of mushrooms. Now it is not because Arcata has the resolution on file, which does not apply to sales, that the (Drug Task Force) has to back off. They still have to do their job,” Ahearn said.
Tomlin echoed similar points regarding the scope of the resolution and its relationship to sales.
“This only applies to the APD, but we are respecting the order and respecting the wishes of their council. But their council’s wishes and the order offer no protection to the drug dealers. They were very clear,” Tomlin said. “Their council and their chief constable have been very clear that it is not acceptable to sell the mushrooms and that is what our enforcement measures aim to sell. So we weren’t looking for people with mushrooms or using mushrooms, it was just for investigation of criminal sales,” Tomlin said.
Ahearn said he understood how people reading the wording of the resolution and the results of the operation could lead to confusion about the operation, but said the department would continue to drive down sales.
“I imagine community members are confused and associate a sting operation for sales with a breach of council resolution… But we are trying to put drug dealers in jail because we don’t want that they compromise people who struggle with addiction, and we try to keep our community safe. I think everyone, including our council, expects us to do this when it comes to the sale and trafficking of narcotics of any type,” Ahearn said.
While officers arrested two people for selling mushrooms, Tomlin said hallucinogens are a low-priority substance and singled out hard drugs, particularly fentanyl, as the task force’s primary target.
“We’re probably spending almost 90% of our time on fentanyl right now. It’s our number one priority. It’s causing a lot of death in our community. We obviously deal with meth and heroin cases… This is just something where we were trying to buy meth on the Arcata Plaza and someone offered to put us in touch with a mushroom seller, and so we took advantage of that introduction through an intermediary,” says Tomlin.
Mario Cortez can be reached at 707-441-0526.