Colorado votes to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms

Colorado voters passed a ballot initiative to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for people over the age of 21 and create state-regulated “healing centers” where patients can experience the drug under supervision.

Colorado is the second state after Oregon to vote to establish a regulated system for substances like psilocybin and psilocin, the hallucinogens found in some mushrooms. The initiative, which would take effect in 2024, will also allow an advisory board to add more herbal psychedelics to the program in 2026.

Proponents have argued that the state’s current approach to mental health has failed and that naturally occurring psychedelics, 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.

Critics warned that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the substances as medicines. They also argued that allowing “healing centers” and allowing private use of the drugs and giving the wrong message to children and adults alike that the substances are healthy would endanger public safety.

The move comes a decade after Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana after initially allowing its use for medical reasons, leading to a multibillion-dollar industry with hundreds of dispensaries popping up across the state.

Critics of the recent ballot initiative say the same well-funded players involved in legalizing recreational marijuana are using a similar playbook to create a commercial market, and eventually recreational dispensaries, for hazardous substances.

Voters in this week’s midterm elections approved recreational marijuana in Maryland and Missouri but opposed it in two other states, signaling that support for legalization is beginning to grow even in conservative parts of the country.

The results mean that 21 states have approved recreational marijuana use.

Under the measure, the psychedelics that would be decriminalized would be listed as Schedule 1 controlled substances under state and federal law and defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse.

Despite this, the FDA has called psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” for treating major depressive disorders. The designation can accelerate research, development and review of a drug when it could offer significant improvements over existing treatments.

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

In 2020, Oregon became the nation’s first state to legalize the therapeutic, supervised use of psilocybin after 56% of voters approved Voting Rights Measure 109. But unlike the Colorado measure, Oregon allows counties to withdraw from the program if their constituents vote to do so.

Oregon’s initiative is scheduled to take effect early next year.

Washington, DC and Denver have partially decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms by requiring law enforcement officials to treat them with the lowest priority.

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