Imagine if Coloradans suffering from anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder had a legal way to treat their ailments with psychedelic mushrooms. Advocates say it’s not that far out.
Residents could be voting in November to legalize psilocybin and psilocin, the psychoactive compounds in magic mushrooms, for use in therapeutic settings after advocates said they’ve collected enough signatures to qualify the question for the ballot.
On Monday, Kevin Matthews and Veronica Perez of Natural Medicine Colorado, the campaign behind the legalization effort, submitted a petition with 222,648 signatures supporting Initiative 58, also known as the Natural Medicine Health Act, to the Secretary of State’s office.
The state still needs to verify the signatures, so it’s not a done deal yet, but given it requires about 125,000 valid signatures, Natural Medicine Colorado believes the question will be in front of voters this fall.
If it passes, the Natural Medicine Health Act would effectively set the stage for a legal mushroom market by tasking Colorado regulators with creating rules around the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transport, sales and purchase of psilocybin and psilocin.
While the measure restricts sales to designated “healing centers” that are licensed by the state — so you wouldn’t be allowed to walk into a store or dispensary and buy ‘shrooms over the counter — it also expands decriminalization for possession, use, and gifting statewide. Because it sets up a new framework for treatment centers, regulators would also define the qualifications, education and training requirements necessary for facilitators who administer the substances.
“The biggest takeaway I hope people understand is that these natural medicines have been used by humans for 10,000 years and in the last 20 to 25 years there has been a significant amount of clinical research at universities like Johns Hopkins and UCLA that really demonstrate the efficacy of natural medicines,” said Matthews, who led Denver’s decriminalization initiative in 2019, by phone. “Coloradans deserve access to these incredible healing options really because we’re facing a crisis of mental health in the state right now.”
Regarding decriminalization, the measure means locals would not be arrested for possessing, using or growing a “personal amount” of psilocybin or psilocin, nor gifting shrooms to adults ages 21 and up. (The term personal amount is not defined and as one local rabbi recently found out, growing 30-plus strains of psychedelic mushrooms can still result in criminal charges.) That ensures more Coloradans will have access to these emerging medicines, Perez said.
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“There are a lot of people in Colorado who have been harmed by the health care system and they’re not going to be the ones who can get access through healing centers. They want to sit with a wisdom keeper or a sitter in their home. Then we also have a regulated model for those who do want the guardrails,” she said. “That’s what makes the measure so beautiful is we’re meeting the most amount of people where they’re at.”
The measure calls for regulations to be in place and for the state to begin accepting license applications by Sept. 30, 2024, and also establishes a Natural Medicine Advisory Board to consult with lawmakers throughout the process. If adopted, Colorado would be the second state to legalize shrooms behind Oregon.
Initiative 58 builds on recent enthusiasm around psilocybin, which has yielded promising results in treating depression, PTSD, anxiety among the terminally ill and even nicotine addiction in university studies. And it’s not the only one – advocates with Decriminalize Nature Colorado have been campaigning in support of a competing ballot measure, Initiative 61, which aims to decriminalize entheogenic plants and fungi, including psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and ibogaine, without establishing a legal market.
Nicole Foerster, a leader of the competing campaign, was not immediately available for comment, but expressed concerns about who a regulated market would leave behind earlier this year when they filed the proposed initiative. It’s unclear how many signatures Initiative 61 has collected so far.
“Without decriminalization and the security it allows for affected communities to more effectively organize, regulatory models will make it difficult for the most disadvantaged groups of our population to continue to access the natural medicines they safely use to heal,” Foerster said in a January statement. “To address this we are advocating for a simple change to existing laws around these controlled substances.”
The original draft of Initiative 58 included legalizing other psychedelic substances, such as mescaline, DMT and ibogaine; however, the current measure only covers mushrooms – at least until June 1, 2026. Thereafter, the aforementioned substances could be added to the regulated system.
Matthews and Perez said their goal is to start incrementally and not overwhelm regulators with additional substances that require different approaches.
“This is new for Colorado. I think two years for (the Department of Regulatory Agencies) and the advisory board to develop something for psilocybin is an excellent timeframe,” Perez said. “To saddle DORA with five different substances with different applications, that’s a lot. Let’s start with one, make sure we have a good solid foundation.”
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