Air conditioners on a cold day? Neighbor speaks out after $8.5M in illegal mushrooms seized in raid

Law enforcement officials came across a staggering find after being tipped off about possible drug dealing: dozens of dog-food-size bags of psychedelic mushrooms worth an estimated $8.5 million at a home in rural Connecticut.

A drug task force including federal, state, and local authorities raided the property Thursday in Burlington, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Hartford, and charged 21-year-old Weston Soule with operating a drug factory and possession with intent to sell/distribute narcotics.

The bust came as two states and several cities in the U.S. have decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms and their active ingredient, psilocybin, which along with other psychedelics have emerged as an alternative treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses. About 20 other states have active legislation on changing laws on psychedelic drugs, according to Psychedelic Alpha, a group that tracks such legislation. In Connecticut, an attempt this year to decriminalize possession of small amounts of psilocybin died in the state Senate.

Authorities said they received a tip that the resident of the Burlington home was operating a psilocybin mushroom growing operation. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials went to the property Thursday morning and said they saw ventilation equipment on the home that was consistent with items used in “clandestine laboratories.”

The man who was later arrested was at the home, and he showed them a detached garage where police said they saw a large mushroom growing operation. The man, however, said the mushrooms were not illegal. He also declined to consent to a search of the home.

Authorities then got a search warrant and found what they called psilocybin-containing mushrooms in various stages of growth.

A neighborhood resident said he knew something wasn’t right at the home before law enforcement executed the raid.

“They were running air conditioners, and it was a cold day, which didn’t seem right,” Lee Hornfischer recalled. “They had air conditioners in the top windows, and also in the front of the house. There were more cars during the day. It almost seemed like a place of employment, more than a place to sleep at night.”

State police released photos showing dozens of bags allegedly containing mushrooms lined up outside the home as well as stacked on metal shelving throughout the home’s interior. The photos also show portable ventilators and other equipment.

After police entered the home with the warrant, the man “admitted to investigators that the mushrooms were in fact psilocybin, which is a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” state police said in a statement. “A Schedule 1 controlled substance is defined as drugs, substances and chemicals that are not currently accepted for medical use and have a high potential for abuse.”

The man posted $250,000 bail and was ordered to appear in state court in New Britain on Nov. 16. Contact information for him could not be found in public records, and court records did not list a lawyer for him. Phone numbers listed in public records for several potential relatives of the man were no longer in service.

Oregon voters approved decriminalizing small amounts of psychedelics in 2020, and separately were the first to approve the supervised use of psilocybin in a therapeutic setting. Two years later, Colorado voters passed a ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and to create state-regulated centers where participants can experience the drug under supervision.

Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have decriminalized the possession and personal use of several hallucinogens, including psychedelic mushrooms, saying the state first needed regulated guidelines.

The federal Food and Drug Administration designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” for treatment-resistant depression in 2019 and recently published a draft guideline on using psychedelics in clinical trials. There has also been a shift in public opinion in support of therapeutic use of psychedelics, including military veterans with trauma and other illnesses.

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