Business, Springfield

Uptown Fungus takes root in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Gared Hansen is a fan of exploring uncharted territory. 

“It’s very rare in our lifetimes that a person has the opportunity to get in at the beginning of a new industry that’s not using circuit boards or quantum computers,” he said. “And I believe in medicine and in the spiritual connection of psychedelics.” 

Hansen is one of the first approved psilocybin manufacturers in the state — and his journey to this moment is just as interesting as he is. 

“And obviously, it doesn’t hurt someone to meditate in a grow room,” he added. 

Hansen, at his manufacturing facility in Springfield. PHOTO BY RYLEIGH NORGROVE

In 2020, Oregon voters passed a ballot measure legalizing the use of state-regulated psilocybin, sometimes called magic mushrooms. Over the last few years, the Oregon Health Authority has built the framework for legal psilocybin consumption, production, and administration. 

Psilocybin service centers in Oregon could open their doors as soon as late summer, and qualified, licensed manufacturers like Hansen make up just one piece of an intricate puzzle.

As the sole employee of his company, Uptown Fungus, Hansen looks forward to a time when he can expand.

Under the guidelines, residents won’t be able to walk into a store and purchase psilocybin, like they can cannabis in many states, the policy frames legal use as more of a health service than a product and anyone old enough to legally drink can access psilocybin services. Clients don’t need a doctor’s note or a prescription, but they are required to complete a preparation session with a licensed facilitator before participating in an administration session at a licensed center.

“People have been under the assumption that this is a dispensary model, similar to cannabis,” said Angela Allbee, who manages Oregon Health Authority’s Psilocybin Services. “The only time psilocybin can be sold to and consumed by a client is at a licensed service center. We have over 70 pages of regulations related to this.”

“The other license manufacturers are in communication with each other and we don’t want to be toxically competitive with each other. This is about healing,” Hansen said “So we’re trying to figure out fair accessible pricing to make a positive industry.” 

Before anyone receives a psilocybin session in the state, there also must be licensed manufacturers to make the product, licensed laboratories to test the product, and licensed service centers where participants would receive the psilocybin. 

Hansen and Allbee both pointed out the ways this industry is taking shape differently than cannabis. The emphasis among many of those involved seems to be the well-being of people rather than the potential profitability of the product, they said.

Hansen’s manufacturing facility is up and running, and just last week, he sold his first batch of mushrooms. Who’s the client? 

The Oregon Department of Agriculture. 

Under OSHA’s guidelines, psilocybin won’t get from the manufacturer to the center without a licensed laboratory to verify the product and test its potency. 

A former San Francisco Police Officer, Hansen’s life took a sharp turn when he became interested in discovering more about his own spirituality. While his ex-wife turned towards western religion, he stumbled across SkyDancing Tantra, a “spiritual and mystical path inspired by the story of Buddah,” that cultivates the “transmutation of sexual energies, desire and pleasure into a transcendental awakening.” 

Psychedelic drugs can affect all the senses — altering a person’s thinking, sense of time, emotions, what they see and sometimes causing hallucinations. The hallucinogenic effects typically last four to six hours, but a person’s psilocybin experience can vary widely depending on the type consumed, the quantity, the setting and their pre-existing mental health conditions.

For centuries, Indigenous groups around the world have used psilocybin for a mix of purposes.

“The community is great,” he said. “I have previous experience with occasional use of psychedelics and it’s a sacred thing for many of us. So I’m using meditation to imbue the mushrooms with healing energy — that’s not going to mean much to most people, but it will hopefully be beneficial.” 

Before moving to Oregon, Hansen was passionate about his career in public service. 

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” he said. “And that’s been a force I’ve followed.” 

But in 2012, he filed a suit in federal court in Oakland, charging SFPD with violating his First Amendment rights to freedom of expression after receiving two multi day suspensions for his hobby, erotic photography.

A police officer by day and a photographer in his time off, Hansen admits he was by no means a professional artist. Although he was passionate about his photography, he didn’t want to be anything other than a cop.

Today, he’s a grower and van-lifer, and one of many around Oregon helping inform the industry as the state unrolls the nation’s first legal system for psilocybin.

At Uptown Fungus, his manufacturing facility is up and running — and he hopes to expand to a service center in the future. 

Psilocybin is a psychedelic compound that can be found in more than 200 species of mushrooms. However, Oregon manufacturers like Hansen can only cultivate, manufacture or possess fruiting bodies of the fungi species psilocybe cubensis and psilocybin products derived from psilocybe cubensis.

The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board made this recommendation because of the amount of existing research on this particular species, Allbee said.

“We wanted to make sure that as we’re implementing this work, we’re … demonstrating that we can do this safely,” Allbee said. “We also wanted to make sure that we had the means to be able to test for the species type and that we understood as much as we could about it.”

In most cases, a manufacturer may only possess a total of 200 grams of psilocybin. Service centers may possess a total of 100 grams of psilocybin. A single serving of a psilocybin product may not contain more than 25 milligrams of psilocybin.

“A lot of people that have had difficult experiences with cannabis production are concerned about this new body of work and don’t understand that psilocybin-producing mushrooms are grown in a very different environment,” Allbee said.

If approved for licensure, manufacturing businesses and service centers will be required to pay an annual license fee of $10,000. Until 2025, both types of businesses must be at least 50% owned by Oregon residents. Nonprofit entities will pay less in fees.

The state requires applicants for manufacturer licenses to request a land use compatibility statement from the city or county where the proposed business is located. The statements must be completed as a condition of licensure, and must show that the location’s zoning is consistent with the proposed use.

Big swaths of Oregon will not be able to host the new businesses. Measure 109 allows for local jurisdictions to opt out of allowing psilocybin services within their borders. In the last general election, more than 100 of the state’s cities and counties voted to ban psilocybin businesses in their jurisdiction, including Cottage Grove and Creswell in Lane County and the unincorporated areas of Marion and Polk counties.

While some states and cities are gradually decriminalizing the use of it, psilocybin remains a Schedule I substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act passed in 1971. This makes it harder for businesses to set up and for people to talk openly about their involvement with the industry.

Business owners also will have trouble banking with federally-insured banks and face extra taxes, similar to legal marijuana businesses — something Hansen has his eye on in the future. 

A lot of misconceptions remain about what it will look like, industry leaders said, across the country and within Oregon. Many involved are eager to fight psilocybin’s reputation as a party drug.

“This is about healing and wellness,” Hansen said. “This is about going inward.”