Meet the man trying to get mushrooms legal in California

Meet the man trying to get mushrooms legal in California

VicesNovember 10, 2017 By Reilly Capps

After Kevin Saunders filed an initiative in California to legalize mushrooms, attention poured in. 

Joe Rogan talked about it. The L.A. Times covered it seriously. So did Newsweek.

Saunders was stoked. Good press is important to any successful political campaign.

But things went a little sideways. It started when The Hill, a stuffy old newspaper on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., which mostly writes about puffy old white men in suits discussing politics indoors, called.

Saunders had just taken a huge bong rip, he says. 

He didn't talk about how mushrooms got him off heroin. Didn't talk about how mushrooms reduce crime. Or how mushrooms ease your fear of dying

The word "alien" tumbled out.

“What I think we’re dealing with possibly is alien contact,” Saunders told The Hill. “It may be some sort of communication from an advanced society, to reprogram us, to reprogram our souls or mind. I think this could be the next big awakening.”

This did not go over well. 

Saunders was ridiculed.

[Saunders is also running for mayor of his town in 2018. Photo from Facebook, used with permission.]

Breitbart, the alt-right clickhole run by Trump’s propagandist Steve Bannon, had a field day, getting a former California gubernatorial candidate to call Saunders an idiot and a kook. Their comments section was riotous. 

“California, the land of the Fruit, Nuts, and now they have the Mushrooms for the Fairies to sit on!!!” wrote one commenter. 

“Ready the rubber room for one Kevin Saunders,” wrote another. “'Captain Saunders' of the starship U.S.S. Fruitcake.”

In Saunders's defense, when anybody eats enough mushrooms, they'll see things that look like Hollywood aliens, whether they want to or not. 

Still, Saunders sighs.

“I shouldn’t have used the word alien,” Saunders says. “I should’ve stuck with ‘advanced society.’”

Either way, drug reform organizations like The Drug Policy Alliance and the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which should be natural allies but tend not to talk about aliens, haven't backed him up.

Tom Eckert, head of the Oregon Psilocybin Society — a group pushing for Oregon to vote on medical mushrooms in 2020 — says Saunders "in no way represents the well-informed, measured, science-based psychedelic movement unfolding across the country." Eckert's initiative, though often characterized as "legalizing mushrooms," is actually much more cautious than Saunders.

It will only allow mushrooms to be taken in a safe space with the help of a therapist and with a doctor's ok.

Saunders, a medical-marijuana advocate from Monterey Bay, still hopes he can gather the 365,000 signatures needed to put it on the ballot. 

Saunders says he’s willing to sell his company and blow his inheritance to get the signatures. For him, legalizing mushrooms would be more than magic — it would be a shot at redemption. Mushrooms have helped Saunders, 47, who is also running for mayor in Marina, California, in 2018. For years, he says, he was addicted to heroin, so addicted he traveled the world looking for the best dope. (North Philly, he says, has the best H in the U.S.) Fifteen years ago, Saunders says, his mom sensed he was in trouble. Not your average mom, she drove him to Death Valley and fed him mushrooms.

It worked, he says.

Saunders has been through tough times. In 2014, police raided his marijuana grow and he was sentenced to a month in prison. He also has a lot of personal beefs; a few shouting matches in line at a coffee shop got him banned from all Starbucks worldwide.

In America, only 20 percent of people think mushrooms should be legal.

In California, it's higher than that. But is it 50 percent? And can Kevin Saunders, a socialist, methadone-dependent, pot-growing guy who thinks mushrooms put you in touch with an advanced civilization but can't walk into the country's largest coffee chain be the guy who gets mushrooms on the ballot there?

Time will tell. Even if Kevin Saunders doesn't ultimately win, he's satisfied.

“I think we’ve already won,” Saunders says. “We’ve opened up a dialog. And sometimes you just need that first shot over the bow. And then, from then on, it’s just an avalanche.”