Colorado votes on decriminalizing ‘magic mushrooms’

Colorado voters are deciding Tuesday whether theirs will become the second state, after Oregon, to create a legalized system for the use of psychedelic mushrooms.

A ballot initiative would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for those 21 and older and create state-regulated “healing centers” where participants can experience the drug under the supervision of a licensed “facilitator.” The measure would establish a regulated system for using substances like psilocybin and psilocin, the hallucinogenic chemicals found in some mushrooms. It also would allow private personal use of the drugs.

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If passed, the initiative would take effect toward the end of 2024. It also would permit a state advisory board to add other plant-based psychedelic drugs to the program in 2026. Those include dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT, ibogaine and mescaline not derived from peyote, which is considered sacred by some Native Americans.

Jason Lopez, a proponent of a Colorado general election ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, is shown on his family’s property Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, near Morrison, Colorado.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Proponents argued that Colorado’s current approach to mental health has failed and that naturally occurring psychedelics, which have been used for hundreds of years, can treat depression, PTSD, anxiety, addiction and other conditions. They also said jailing people for the nonviolent offense of using naturally occurring substances costs taxpayers money.

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But critics noted the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the substances as medicine. They also argued allowing healing centers to operate and permitting personal use would jeopardize public safety and send the wrong message to kids and adults alike that the substances are healthy.

Luke Niforatos is shown outside a radio studio in the Historic Five Points District before taking part in a debate Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022, in Denver.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The move comes a decade after Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana, which led to a multibillion-dollar industry with hundreds of dispensaries popping up across the state. Critics of the latest ballot initiative say the same deep-pocketed players who were involved in legalizing recreational marijuana are using a similar playbook to create a commercial market, and eventually recreational dispensaries, for dangerous substances.

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The psychedelics that would be decriminalized are listed as schedule 1 controlled substances under state and federal law and are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use with a high potential for abuse.

Jason Lopez, a proponent of a Colorado general election ballot measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, is shown on his family’s property Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, near Morrison, Colorado.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Even so, the FDA has designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” to treat major depressive disorder. The designation can expedite research, development and review of a drug if it might offer substantial improvements over existing treatments.

Colorado’s ballot initiative would allow those 21 and older to grow, possess and share the psychedelic substances but not sell them for personal use. It also would allow people who have been convicted of offenses involving the substances to have their criminal records sealed.

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In 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize the therapeutic, supervised use of psilocybin after 56% of voters approved Ballot Measure 109. But unlike the Colorado measure, Oregon allows counties to opt out of the program if their constituents vote to do so.

Oregon’s initiative is expected to take effect at the beginning of next year.

Washington, D.C., and Denver have partially decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms by requiring law enforcement officers to treat them as their lowest priority.