Colorado Still Hammering Out Details for Decriminalizing Psilocybin

It’s once again a flash from the past—just like with cannabis in 1975, Colorado is leading the country in deciding to decriminalize another psychoactive federally illegal drug. This time, it’s psilocybin. 

Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin in May, 2019, when the city and county of Denver voters enacted Ordinance 301 to make adult personal possession and use of psilocybin the lowest law enforcement priority, and prohibit the city and county from spending resources on enforcing any related penalties. 

Decriminalize Nature Colorado, an educational campaign funded by donations to inform individuals about the value of entheogenic plants and fungi with the intention of proposing a resolution to decriminalize “our relationship to nature,” submitted a proposed ballot initiative to the Secretary of State’s Office on January 28 that sought to decriminalize the possession, use and facilitation of entheogens in the state—a term which is generally regarded as safer “regulator-speak” for psilocybin.

Decriminalize Nature has a track record for this cause—Decriminalize Nature D.C. helped get the psilocybin decriminalization initiative, Initiative 81, passed in D.C. in March, 2021

Another Colorado initiative came from New Approach PAC, backed by major contributors the Van Ameringen Foundation, a private grant-making foundation based in New York, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a hemp products maker channeling over $3 million into the PAC. They submitted their own initiative that includes decriminalization measures as well as a legal pathway for psilocybin therapy in Colorado.

In fact, the PAC initially filed two proposed initiatives in December, has since altered both, and tried to court the very activists who are now pushing their own proposal, according to an article in Westword

At one point, it looked like voters would be facing two versions for how to best move forward with psychedelics reform in Colorado: one proposal with carve-outs for state regulation, and one that has none. But it looks as though lawmakers have narrowed down what they want to do. Final initiative language details are being worked out.

New Approach PAC also supported the approved Washington, D.C. initiative 81; plus Oregon’s approved initiative; plus a slew of marijuana legalization laws including California Proposition 64 in 2016.

Colorado officials have given tentative approval to the ballot language of four psychedelics reform measures submitted—Initiatives 49, 50, 58, 59, all titled the Natural Medicine Health Act—but it was always the plan to pursue only one version. The provisions vary slightly in each version of the initiative. Now they’ve requested permission from the state to start signature gathering for Initiative 58.

The initiative states that, if voters approve it in November, 2022, the state will adopt rules by January 1, 2024 to establish qualifications for the education and training of facilitators; adopt rules by September 30, 2024 needed to implement the access program and take applications for facilities; and that, after reviews by the Natural Medicine Advisory Board, other psychedelics than psilocybin may be added by June 1, 2026 (to include ibogaine, mescaline, dimethyltryptamine).

So is this growing decriminalizing movement in cities and states in the U.S. worth it?

Assistant Professor of Law, University of Massachusetts School of Law, Dustin Marlan, discussed several justifications for the decriminalization of psychedelics—medical value, religious freedom, cognitive liberty, and identity politics. 

He then attempted a reframing of the cognitive liberty and identity politics-related justifications under tenets of the neurodiversity paradigm. “It is unclear whether such a brain equality argument would hold clout in a court of law, but to the extent that it gains a following in the popular consciousness, we are more likely to see additional successful ballot initiatives for psychedelic law reform,” Marlan wrote. “This turn of events could shape the end of the unjust prohibition on altered states of consciousness.”

Dave Hodes

David Hodes is a business journalist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. He has contributed feature articles to several cannabis and psychedelics publications, as well as general business/lifestyle publications, on a variety of topics. Hodes was selected as 2018 Journalist of the Year by Americans for Safe Access. He is a member of the National Press Club, and the deputy booking agent for the National Press Club Headliners Committee.

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