Psychedelic Therapy Initiatives Take Step Toward 2022 Ballot

Psilocybin mushrooms
The state Title Board on Wednesday approved language for two ballot measures that would regulate psilocybin therapy. / Photo by Erik Fenderson via Wikimedia Commons.

Two statewide ballot initiatives to ease access to psychedelic substances, including magic mushrooms, had an initial hearing before the state Title Board on Dec. 15, clearing the first hurdle for the measures to appear on the 2022 ballot.

The measures would remove criminal penalties for personal use of what proponents have dubbed “natural medicines.” The first of the two proposals, Initiative #49, includes in its definition of “natural medicines” not only psilocybin and psilocin — the psychedelic compounds found in magic mushrooms — but also the cactus-derived hallucinogen mescaline, dimethyltryptamine and ibogaine, a psychoactive substance found in plants that has been used to treat symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

A second version of the proposal, Initiative #50, defines “natural medicines” as psilocybin and psilocin plus any other plant or fungus controlled substance that “furthers the intent of the purpose of this act” and may be regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.

In addition to removing criminal penalties for personal use by adults over 21, the measures would establish “regulated access” to psychedelic substances for mental health purposes. Under the regulated access program, DORA would oversee licensed healing centers that manufacture, grow, store, distribute and sell the drugs. Licensed “facilitators” would provide natural medicine services, including supervised use of the drugs.

Initiative #49 would not allow local governments to completely ban licensed healing centers. It also provides for the establishment of a natural medicine advisory board within DORA to advise on the implementation of the regulated access program. However, Initiative #50 would allow localities to ban healing centers and doesn’t call for an advisory board.

At Wednesday’s Title Board hearing, board members and ballot measure proponents worked to fine-tune the language that might appear before voters in 2022. Board members raised concerns that the term “natural medicines” is too broad. “I’m not … particularly concerned about it being a catchphrase, but I think if it’s not narrowed some that it is fairly misleading,” said board member Jason Gelender of the Office of Legislative Legal Services, adding that people might associate the phrase with things like probiotics or products found at health supplement stores.

But the measure’s proponents were hesitant to add descriptors such as “psychotropic” or “psychedelic” to clarify the term. “I guess ‘psychedelic’ takes me back to the ‘60s,” said Edward Ramey, counsel for the proponents, adding, “that isn’t what this is about.” Ultimately, the board stuck with the phrase “natural medicine” and approved title language for both measures.

Use of drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA as mental health treatments has gained acceptance among patients, researchers and the public in recent years. According to the Colorado proposals, an “extensive and growing body of research is advancing to support the efficacy of natural medicines combined with psychotherapy as treatment for depression, anxiety, substance use disorders and end-of-life distress.” The initiatives aim to promote health by reducing criminal punishments for people with mental health issues and establishing regulated access to natural treatments.

Oregon voters passed a similar measure in November 2020, making it the first state to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic use. Oregon’s Measure 109 allows the use of psilocybin at licensed therapy facilities, much like the Colorado proposals would. Oregon is currently developing regulations for psilocybin services and will start issuing provider licenses in 2023. Measure 109 passed with the approval of nearly 56% of Oregon voters.

If the measures make it to the ballot, Colorado voters may prove receptive. According to cannabis industry news source Marijuana Moment, a March 2020 poll showed that about half of Colorado voters would approve a statewide ballot measure to decriminalize personal use of psilocybin mushrooms and allow therapeutic access to the psychedelic fungus. In May 2019, Denver became the first city to decriminalize personal possession and use of magic mushrooms after the city’s voters narrowly passed a ballot initiative.

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