California-based law firm Clark Howell specializes in the corporate, regulatory, and supply chain aspects of alternative and medicinal cannabis organizations. The women-owned and directed firm helps its clients to launch, fund, leverage, and grow successful businesses and brands.
PsyTech: How did you get involved in the psychedelics industry?
Nicole: I’d like to say at the outset that the idea of a psychedelics “industry” is not one that we totally subscribe to. Groups like MAPS and others are approaching these things in a way that is much different from traditional industry, meaning that we create intellectual property that we then protect and try to make a lot of money from. As lawyers who have been working with the cannabis and hemp space for many years, we’ve seen what happened in the cannabis industry. And I will definitely use that word for the cannabis industry, because what we saw there was kind of an embracing of free market principles in many regards. We now have a cannabis industry that is more and more consolidated and has more and more institutional venture capital according to traditional business fundamentals that really just look at bottom line, reducing costs, increasing profits, and treating cannabis like a commodity—like the next big thing.
Ariel and I very much on board with the next wave. There are lots of us who really want to see something very different happen with psychedelics. Part of the reason we got introduced to PsyTech was their panel on psychedelic ethics, and particularly hearing from Liana Gilloooly of the North Star Pledge. I presented a talk at PsyTech’s recent summit about using the psychedelic experience to inform a new a new role for capitalism and profit in the hierarchy of things that businesses and organizations should consider when working with psychedelics. Ariel is working on thought leadership along the lines of what a California initiative should have in it in order to implement some of those things. So that’s kind of our perspective and where our energy is behind this work.
PsyTech: With that in mind and complete respect for your shift in paradigm, how did you get interested in the psychedelics space?
Nicole: I would say for me, it’s a personal journey. Psychedelics have been a big part of my own life and transformative process and journey and healing. And they have really had a role in helping me see the truer nature of reality, which is our interconnectedness. So that’s always been in my head, and in my later adult life it’s always been a part of it in terms of our lawyering. As I mentioned, we’ve been working in the cannabis and hemp space for for many years before it was legalized in California. As laws are starting to change now, there’s a natural intersection for our experience and industry and our personal connection to these medicines and compounds and fungi. So there’s a very natural integration of personal and professional life.
Ariel: I started using psychedelics when I was in my early teens. In fact, when my father found out that I had taken LSD, he gave me a copy of The Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary. So that really helped to point me in a very thoughtful direction. And then similar to Nicole, they have been very helpful on my own journey, particularly because I’m biracial, I’m a half Native American Ottawa Anishinaabe from the Grand Traverse Band. Psychedelics have been very helpful in my own healing journey, my ancestral healing, and just healing from being a human being in this form. And I agree totally with everything Nicole said about why we do this work professionally and our thought leadership.
PsyTech: What are the biggest issues holding back psychedelic medicines from achieving their full potential for the public?
Nicole: That would definitely be the old ways of thinking about how to bring medicines to market: overemphasis on profit, the old paradigm of product, scale, return on investment—it’ll be a travesty if that happens here in the way it’s happened for cannabis.
PsyTech: It sounds like that’s something that really concerns you.
Nicole: It’s the David and Goliath, right? It’s the inertia of what’s in effect already in terms of our traditional notions of capitalism and free markets. So, yeah, it’s a big hurdle to overcome, to say the least.
PsyTech: The average layperson may be skeptical or biased toward psychedelics based on cultural history or other stigma. What’s one thing you would want the public to know about psychedelics?
Ariel: That they are profound tools and healing modalities for various mental health and addiction issues. The statistics are off the charts on how many people suffer from these issues—psychedelics provide tools and healing modalities that are very effective. I would also remind people to take a pause and not necessarily believe everything we think or have been indoctrinated with in this culture during the war on drugs, because there’s been a tremendous amount of misinformation and moralizing about the use of mind-expanding substances. People should think critically about why that might have served status quo interests rather than being the truth.
PsyTech: Let’s talk about your firm, Clark Howell. What sets Clark Howell apart from other law firms involved in the psychedelics space?
Nicole: Well, for one, we want our role to be in helping to envision a different sort of business model and a different way of organizing around the ideas of profit and stakeholder interests. So we’re very careful about what folks’ motivations are, even as we work with them in the very limited way that lawyers can work with clients in this space right now because of the state of the law. But we have taken a a pretty clear stance that we will only work with individuals or organizations that have taken the North Star Pledge and are seriously committed to implementing it in their business model.
Ariel: I would add that our thought leadership is definitely informed by our own personal continued engagement with psychedelics, and our own inner lives, really.
PsyTech: What’s the first question you get asked when someone finds out you’re involved in psychedelics?
Ariel: I would say in my case, folks are curious about what legalization will look like. And I’ve also heard things like, “Will I be able to buy mushroom chocolates at a store?”
PsyTech: What’s some typical pushback you may experience being involved in psychedelics particularly from a legislative or legal point of view, and how do you respond to that?
Ariel: I guess I would say it’s less pushback and more sort of confusion and ignorance, as if the idea of psychedelics is just this weird hippie subculture “ha ha ha” sort of a thing. It blows people’s minds when they learn that Johns Hopkins has been studying psilocybin since like 2006, and that there have been hundreds of peer-reviewed studies out of that institution alone. And then you blow their minds with all the other studies, and then countries and local jurisdictions that have decriminalized, Oregon’s recent steps, etc. But it’s very much wrapped in mental health, mind expansion, and interconnectedness, all the really profound ways that these medicines give to us.
PsyTech: What impact will this year’s election have on the general culture and legal status of the psychedelic movement?
Nicole: Frankly, I don’t think that it will have any impact. I think this is a grassroots people movement, at least for now. This is people lobbying their local governments where there’s receptivity like we’ve seen in Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor, and of course most recently Oregon. Those are just people and communities making things happen on a local level that has nothing to do with the nonsense about presidential politics.
PsyTech: What was the initial reaction when your friends and family heard you were involved in psychedelics?
Nicole: There was no reaction, really. It’s just kind of who I am.
Ariel: Yeah, exactly. Like I was born into this. Activism, psychedelics, this healing journey. It already was.
PsyTech is grateful to Ariel and Nicole for their thoughts on the future of the psychedelics renaissance. We’d also like to thank Clark Howell for their generous sponsorship of our recent Summit.