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The What, Who, Why, and How of the Psychedelic Bar Association

What is the Psychedelic Bar Association? 

A Psychedelic Bar Association has been a long time coming. The organization was dreamed of in various forms as early as 2016, but it wasn’t until the co-founders were introduced in 2019 that the concept took off. The current form of the PBA was designed in 2020, soft launched in 2021, and opened for public membership in 2022. We initiated it in part to create a container for legal professionals to be in relationship with one another as we navigated the challenging questions that emerged as the psychedelic ecosystem began to converge with the mainstream. 

When COVID forced everything online and world events invited each of the founding board members to reflect on our role in changing – or maintaining – the status quo, the founding board members took the opportunity to go a step further than the bar associations we had each been affiliated with in the past. 

We knew that legal professionals had significant roles in designing novel regulatory regimes, including cannabis, but felt like that many didn’t take the responsibility of that role as seriously as they should have, often motivated by short-term considerations and narrow personal motivations. In developing our values framework, we turned to the North Star principles as a starting point. You can read more about North Star here, but in short, the organization emerged in the early days of the psychedelic industry to offer approaches to working professionally in the space, in particular for businesses seeking to participate in the complex and controversial commercial economy of it all. We adapted those principles to the PBA North Star Invitation which we still utilize as a framework to acculturate legal professionals into the space by thinking more deeply about how exactly we show up as individuals and as organizations. Through that invitation our members were invited to acknowledge and embrace the nuances present in the emergence of this field, and engage in critical self-reflection, both as individuals and as a profession, in the interest of the whole.

Today, the Psychedelic Bar Association is an association of accomplished attorneys from all practice areas and perspectives – corporate, constitutional, intellectual property, administrative law, and regulatory affairs – including impact litigators, in-house counsel, policy analysts, criminal justice reformers, and more, all dedicated to solving the novel legal, ethical, and policy issues impacting the emerging psychedelics sector.

In addition to those novel technical issues, the PBA also focuses on acculturation of attorneys to the approach it is taking to service in the ecosystem. And we have a good time, but we are not all fun and games – through live and online events we offer education (yes, actual CLEs), community (through membership and networking), understanding of ethics (publications about ethical dilemmas in the space), and look forward to building out a referral network so anyone in the ecosystem seeking legal support can turn to us for a hand.

 

Who are we? 

The PBA is a network of legal professionals who grow together, learn alongside one another, and challenge the status quo by bringing our whole selves into our work however we can. We’re also some damn good lawyers, each working in our own niches but in constant collaboration across otherwise often siloed areas. 

In developing the inaugural Board of Directors, and in subsequent succession processes, we sought legal professionals from a broad mix of practice areas and approaches. Many of us and many other professionals in our network have deeply personally or professionally engaged with issues, communities, and/or stakeholders related to psychedelics, plant medicine, or drug policy reform. And, as a cherry on top, we are doing our best to cultivate the capacity and desire to engage in emotional and interpersonal processing and dialogue with fellow board members on issues related to legal content, professional patterns, and approach to the organization. 

Critically, we have kept the PBA open to law students and paralegals, without whom the legal profession simply could not run! 

Regardless of who shows up, we share in common a recognition of the paradigm shift undeniably underway, and our commitment to showing up in our role as a positive, unifying force in this important moment. 

 

Why do we do it? 

Working in this field requires us to be aware of and open to valuing and learning about multiple cultural, social, and ethical lenses around policy and practice related to the use of psychedelics and entheogens. We cannot develop these critical lenses alone, and must learn in relationship to one another. This perspective is informed by our awareness of interdependence necessary for sustainable change. 

As we became increasingly open about our relationship to psychedelic topics, more and more people approached us asking how to participate – not just as professionals seeking clients, but also as humans wondering how to incorporate the many lessons of the psychedelic experience into our practices. We knew that these folks were not alone, and we wanted to make space for them, too. Professional ethics considerations, among others, affect how we think and talk about this work, and we knew that ongoing open dialogue would benefit individuals and organizations across the sector. 

 

How do we do it? 

As laws change and the War on Drugs continues to collapse, we recognize the breadth of the “psychedelic sector” which includes organizations, communities, individuals, trained professionals, and businesses that research, develop, produce, administer, guide, and educate about the legal use of psychedelic substances. Naturally, our approach has had to be one that considers this significant breadth while also staying true to our goal of being a platform for education, connection, and relationship. 

Similarly, as the field has grown, incentives and motivations have also become more defined. We had many conversations early on about how we could remain both neutral but principled, focusing on developing a platform that was more than just a larger mouthpiece for the personal opinions of our board members or committee stewards. We openly discuss our positionality and location within the broader psychedelic ecosystem based on our career paths and experience. And, we seek to develop tolerance for and comfort with the confrontation associated with hearing and engaging with different opinions and perspectives, and value holding space in the tension of ongoing dialogue about issues that are personal and significant to us all. 

We were the first bar association in the psychedelics space, but won’t be the only one.  Several other organizations will be formed or are already forming. We do not seek to dominate the space and welcome the diversity; however we hope that our vision allows for more creativity, collaboration, and possibility to emerge as we all enter the mystery of this uncharted territory.

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