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An Open Letter to the Biggest Psychedelic Gathering In History
Lets address the elephant in the room
We are writing this letter on behalf of the Hyphae Leaks and Oakland Hyphae community, the largest BIPOC-run psychedelics organization in the US, regarding the Psychedelic Science Conference. Everyone in the psychedelics community is talking about it — makes sense, considering it's billed as the largest psychedelic gathering in history! But there's an inherent issue we need to address with MAPS: Only wealthy people can afford to attend this event. How can it be the biggest psychedelic gathering in history, then?
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It might be difficult to see outside of your community of donors, doctors, and affluent Burners, but most of the psychedelics community is not wealthy. We know very few people who can afford to attend your event, and we find this extremely problematic. Most people don't have extra cash to blow on an $800 ticket, let alone the absurdity of an $1100 or $1800 ticket. For perspective, it costs $500 for a three-day general admission ticket to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Psychedelic Science tickets are outrageously expensive. While the higher-priced ticketing tiers include food, the community ticket prices don’t. None of the tickets include hotel rooms or roundtrip airfare. Realistically, even if someone purchased an $800 "community pass," they're still likely to spend upwards of $1500 by the end of the event. And that's only to attend the seminars! If a community price ticketholder wants to attend workshops, they'd have to fork out additional fees.
We heard from dozens of people from our community about the inaccessibility of the conference. Ryan Miller, a military veteran who founded Operation EVAC, worries that the people who would most benefit from attending are being priced out.
"I'm an MFT intern, and all of my ceremonies have been gifts or scholarships because I couldn't have afforded them otherwise," he said. "I think successful organizations like MAPS have to make decisions. Are these events about community, or are they about fundraising? They need to decide how much they're going to depend on events for fundraising and honestly assess if they're being gatekeepers."
The dictionary defines "gatekeeping" as the "intentional or unintentional act of controlling who is allowed to participate or have access to certain resources, information, or opportunities." Affordability aside, the workshops and conference are scheduled from Monday, June 19th to Friday, June 23rd. That means people must take days off of work to attend this event. This creates a systematic issue that specifically targets overlapping groups: The working class and BIPOC folks. So…the opposite of whom this event is evidently targeting.
The issue of inaccessibility is layered. The fact it costs half a paycheck to attend and takes place during the work week is a slap in the face to anyone who works a 9 to 5 job, gets paid minimum wage, receives unemployment, is living paycheck to paycheck — ahem, at least half of US citizens — and people living in these conditions who have families to care for. The exorbitant cost of attendance, which requires a significant investment of time and money, raises questions about MAPS's adherence to its mission of integrity, transparency, and equitable access for all. MAPS is expected to prioritize these objectives, yet these high fees suggest otherwise.
Speaking of profits, the cost for businesses to secure a booth at your event is upwards of $7,000. That's an exorbitant cost for event sponsorship, but it makes us wonder even more why the lowest-tiered ticket price is $800? We also question the inverse: Why charge businesses thousands of dollars for a booth at your event if ticket prices are already so high? Participation costs are ghastly enough to sink people into debt—unless you're wealthy or have a team of investors behind your brand. Most BIPOC entrepreneurs and businesses don't receive the same financial opportunities as their white counterparts.
"Some businesses just don't have the money other highly funded brands or organizations do," said Elan Hagens, the founder of Fruiting Bodies Collective and owner of Temptress Truffles, from Oregon. "After hotels and tickets, and everything else, I'm just not sure if it's worth it professionally."
Despite our criticism, we appreciate that MAPS offered a scholarship program to help marginalized people attend the conference. We spoke to Steven Huang, the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion officer at MAPS, who helped us understand that part of the strategy for the high-priced tickets was to cover the costs of the scholarships.
“The highest-priced tickets are expensive because some people can afford that,” Steven said. “When people pay for those tickets, it subsidizes the scholarships and gives us the ability to give out more.”
Steven told us that MAPS received upwards of 4,000 scholarship applications and awarded more than 90% of scholarships to Black and Indigenous folks, and gave everyone who applied discounted tickets, or a partial scholarship of $500. He also explained that MAPS has awarded a cumulative total of 1,000 free tickets — mostly to students and people demonstrating financial need. Free tickets are great! But most of the people who were given the option to purchase a $500 discounted ticket still couldn’t afford it.
“It’s easy to point out all of the systemic barriers,” Steven said. “But the real work is what are we going to do about it? We are doing what we can to lower ticket prices while still existing in a late-stage capitalistic society. We are also trying to find ways to lower the price of lodging, which is another systemic barrier.”
Devon Phillips, the creative strategist at MAPS, explained that they have worked out deals to make rooms less expensive at hotels in the area. They got charter buses to help people get to events after the conference so they don’t have to rely on Ubers.
“We are trying to look at the price model as a whole to make it more affordable,” Devon said, “rather than just making the conference cheaper and not addressing the other elements of the experience, such as lodging and transportation. We want this to be an inclusive area and event for people to come to.”
Look, we all have to make money to survive in this increasingly expensive society. MAPS is running a business and has hundreds of employees to pay — we get that. We also know it costs money to throw an event. Perhaps it's our fault for believing that psychedelics can exist outside of a capitalist paradigm. Surely, the rise of corporadelics suggests that it cannot. We also know that some of the money garnered from ticket sales is going toward funding parties, workshops, and events happening outside the conference. Full disclosure: MAPS sponsored our Juneteenth Psychedelic Pipeline Party. And it was a mother fuckin’ smash, god damn it.
“We are throwing a Juneteenth event with the help of MAPS,” said Reggie Harris, the founder of Oakland Hyphae, Hyphae Labs, and Hypahe Leaks. “But we would not have been able to get to Denver or throw this event honoring Juneteenth if MAPS didn’t make accommodations to help us get there. The way they supported our event should be a model for other large organizations within the psychedelic space.”
There’s also a concerning absence of Indigenous representation among conference and panel speakers. It undermines the event's educational value because it lacks the critical and cultural perspectives that only Indigenous voices can offer. Westernized individuals are inherently limited in their ability to comprehend the intricacies of Indigenous lifestyles, cultures, and perspectives, all of which build the context around medicine, ceremony, and community. Indigenous communities have invaluable knowledge that must be respected, acknowledged, and represented at events like the Psychedelic Science Conference, especially in 2023. Robin Carhart-Harris, Paul Stamets, and Michael Pollen have been centered ENOUGH.
"While I appreciate that MAPS is trying to be more inclusive of all different kinds of folks by offering scholarships to this very expensive event, I think it's very telling that there's very little representation of traditional practitioners and Indigenous perspectives of science," says a scholarship recipient who wishes to remain anonymous. "Indigeneity does not preclude science…There should be so many more Black and Brown folks on the panels. Period."
Lastly, how is MAPS accommodating the people of Denver? You're descending upon a relatively small town with the equivalent of a traveling circus, and you're still charging them half of their rent money to attend. One government employee who works in Denver told us they couldn't attend because the event is too expensive. Not giving locals special access to the conference is like not inviting someone to an event held in their backyard. MAPS should honor the communities they parachute in on by granting them free entrance or a locals’ discount and other attractive benefits. It's what polite guests do.
The goal of this letter isn’t to attack MAPS. In fact, we want to trust and support MAPS as the leader of the psychedelics industry. But it’s difficult to do so when the vast majority of our community, the extended BIPOC community, and other marginalized folks are largely priced out from accessing the higher knowledge available at your event. We trust that MAPS will take the necessary steps to resolve these issues — the future of equity in psychedelics depends on it.
The Hyphae Leaks Community
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