Choosing how to heal

Colorado could have two state-wide psilocybin bills on 2022 ballot—one for legalization and another for decriminalization

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Denver’s decriminalization of magic mushrooms in 2019 was followed by a cascade of city, county, and state-wide decriminalization efforts across the country. In the years since California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington and Washington D.C. have all had cities or counties decriminalized psilocybin and other similar plant-medicines. And in 2021, Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize all psychedelics (and personal drug possession at large). 

Now Colorado is moving toward state-wide decriminalization or legalization, with two separate ballot initiatives. But the two proposals are approaching that shared goal in very different ways. 

“This is an incredible step to make, and I am so grateful that so many people are acknowledging the need for this change,” Veronica Perez, a representative for one of the two initiatives, the Natural Medicine Health Act, says. “I am beyond excited to be able to offer my fellow Coloradans more choices. I fully believe that the Earth offers us everything that we need to thrive.”

Advocates for the Natural Medicine Health Act submitted four versions of this bill’s potential ballot language to lawmakers. All of them were approved, giving the group a choice between four different iterations of legalization legislation. The group chose Initiative 58.

“It’s the most comprehensive of the initiatives we proposed and will ensure that all Coloradans have access to natural medicines in the way that works best for them,” Kevin Matthews, president of the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel and the campaign manager behind the 2019 vote to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver, says. “Initiative 58 is focused on opening access to as many Coloradans as possible.”

This proposed act would allow adults over 21 to possess, cultivate, gift, and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline, and dimenthyltryptamine (DMT). According to Initiative 58’s language, though, only psilocybin would be immediately legalized, while the other specified substances couldn’t be legalized and regulated for therapeutic use until June 2026, giving lawmakers time to set up the rules for psilocybin first.

The Natural Medicine Health Act would also charge Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) with developing rules for therapeutic psychedelics programs for adults over 21 to receive treatment from a trained facilitator. Treatment could be done at a licensed healing center, privately with the patient at their own home, or at an approved healthcare location. It also includes a component authorizing convicted criminals to petition courts for record sealing of past convictions. 

“Compared to other states, [Colorado has] the highest prevalence of adults who are suffering from [mental health] issues and the lowest rates of access to care,” Matthews says. “The Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022 will provide another option for individuals to find relief in their health and mental wellness.”

However, just a week after the language for the Natural Medicine Health Act was approved, another pro-psilocybin group filed a second ballot initiative, proposing a much different way of approaching the same vision. 

Activists from Decriminalize Nature Boulder County argue that the best way to end prohibition and criminalization of psilocybin is through a simple, straight-forward state-wide decriminalization bill. Instead of setting up the whole regulatory legalization framework proposed in the Natural Medicine Health Act, Decriminalize Nature’s proposed ballot initiative, called Legal Possession and Use of Entheogenic Plants and Fungi, would buy time for dialogue, education and research, to inform future policies for full-on legalization. 

“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,” Nicole Foerster with Decriminalize Nature, stated in a press release. “To address this we are advocating for a simple change to existing laws around these controlled substances.”

The Decriminalize Nature measure would decriminalize the facilitation of psychedelic guidance services and therapy. Selling psychedelic mushrooms or psilocybin would remain illegal under this decriminalization measure, although possession of them and facilitation of therapeutic services with them would be decriminalized.

Either measure needs 124,632 signatures from registered Colorado voters in order to appear on the ballot. On one hand, having two such proposals in Colorado doubles the chances that one (or both) of these initiatives could end up on the ballot in November. On the other hand, the choice could divide proponents down the decriminalize vs. legalize demarcation line. Should both measures get enough signatures to be voted on, it could split support for either one. 

The advocates with the Natural Medicine Health Act don’t seem worried about that. 

“This is not a competition,” Matthews says. “We respect all efforts to get on the ballot.”

“To me, [having two ballot initiatives] is a demonstration of how needed freedom in the usage of psilocybin and plant medicines is,” says Perez. “It proves how many people are interested and supportive of our rights here in Colorado to choose how we want to heal.”

If both initiatives end up on November’s ballot, the one with the most votes would prevail in all particulars in which there is a conflict,” according to C.R.S. §1-40-123(2).

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Correction: In the original article “Choosing how to heal” (Weed Between the Lines, March 17, 2022), we incorrectly stated that if both psilocybin initiatives end up on November’s ballot and both receive enough votes to pass, the one with the most votes “wins.” According to C.R.S. §1-40-123(2) the correct verbiage is “the initiative with the most votes would prevail in all particulars in which there is a conflict.”

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