As Oregon’s first psilocybin facilitators graduate, an untested industry awaits

On Sunday, Aleks Taylor became one of the first official psilocybin facilitation graduates in Oregon’s fledgling psilocybin industry.But it’s not clear when Taylor — or any of the other approximately 100 people who graduated over the weekend — can put their new skills to use legally. No licensed psilocybin service centers, where facilitators will sit with clients who have ingested “magic” mushrooms, operate in Oregon yet. No manufacturers who will supply products to those service centers are licensed yet either.

It’s kind of up in the air,” Taylor said.The industry might be a work in progress but plenty of people, many of whom are already employed in the field of mental health, have paid $6,000 to $12,000 or more in tuition at one of 21 state-approved training programs to become the first part of a therapeutic framework that is still being built.And since Oregon is the first state to regulate the legal use of psilocybin, what federal laws will mean for the industry is theoretical. Among the questions: Who will insure service centers and facilitators? How will service centers process payments or do their banking? How will federal tax laws be applied to each part of the system?Taylor is taking it slow.“I plan on waiting a little bit,” they said. “Kind of see how other people manage, what they are doing.”TRAINING IN THE WOODSIn a large room in the woods outside of Portland, a misty view of pine trees filled the windows this past Sunday. A group of about 30 students from InnerTrek, a facilitator training program run by Tom Eckert, one of the architects of Oregon’s legal therapeutic psilocybin program, slipped between themes of science and spirituality as they discussed dealing with ethical dilemmas in their new shared role as facilitators.

They paid $7,900 in tuition, not including some private scholarships, and spent six months studying InnerTrek’s approved curriculum. To get an actual license, which costs an additional $2,000 annually, they’ll need to take two tests – one administered by InnerTrek and the other by the Oregon Health Authority. Only then can they sit with clients during psychedelic mushroom experiences at licensed service centers. As facilitators, they’ll also be responsible for screening clients and discussing the experience before their sessions and talking with them afterward in a process called “integration,” to help clients contextualize their psilocybin experience.Most people in the industry don’t expect the program to be fully up and running until summer at the earliest.The recent collapse of Synthesis Institute, a Dutch company that was training facilitators in Oregon and hoping to open a retreat center in the state has some people worried about the viability of psilocybin companies.But none of this has stopped many people from beginning the process of working in Oregon’s first-in-the-nation industry. According to InnerTrek’s director of operations Nate Howard, InnerTrek’s first cohort, which began in the fall, included just over 100 people. Howard, like all other InnerTrek staff including Eckert, also graduated from the program, meaning future students will be taught by people with active licenses in the state.

Graduates from other programs will soon follow, although neither the Oregon Health Authority nor the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, which regulate the training programs, have an estimate of the number of students who have enrolled. Angie Allbee, who leads the psilocybin service section at OHA, said 112 applicants have started the process of seeking facilitator licenses.Allbee also noted OHA expects to begin issuing manufacture and service center licenses in the coming weeks.FEDERAL HURDLESWhile the focus of most discussion around Oregon’s legal psilocybin program is the substance itself, many future facilitators are thinking about a much more mundane issue: taxes.Psilocybin is still a federally illegal Schedule I drug, which means, like cannabis, it is subject to tax code 280E. The code prohibits businesses that operate around Schedule I and II drugs from taking normal tax deductions that other businesses take, creating a steeper federal tax bill for companies that the government describes as “trafficking” drugs.

During a February webinar by the Healing Advocacy Fund, a group promoting the psilocybin industry, two lawyers and an accountant with experience in the legal cannabis industry said psilocybin service centers will likely fall under 280E. But will facilitators?According to Katye Maxson, a certified public accountant, the answer is unknown. No case law exists to guide the answer. “Is just standing in the room with someone doing psilocybin trafficking?” she asked.It might take years to find out — and require taking the issue to tax court.Nate Howard, InnerTrek’s director of operations, said he is not worried.Howard helped pass Measure 109, which voters approved in 2020 to establish legal psilocybin in the state. He also co-founded a cannabis farm and worked for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for a time. He noted that cannabis farms and dispensaries have learned to co-exist with federal laws that undermine that industry.“It’s not that people shouldn’t do it because there are hurdles,” Howard said. “It’s that we need to do this more.”For students entering a field without precedent, it remains to be seen how difficult those hurdles will be.

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