Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) says he’s currently undecided on how he will vote next month on a historic ballot initiative to legalize psychedelics possession and create psilocybin “healing centers” throughout the state.
Despite voicing support for psychedelics decriminalization earlier this year and touting the therapeutic benefits of entheogenic substances, the governor gave a non-committal response when asked about the ballot measure during a gubernatorial election debate on Friday.
“Like most Colorado voters, I’ll be reading the Blue Book and making our decision, discussing it around our kitchen table,” Polis said. “I haven’t looked at that one yet.”
In a sense, this feels like a repeat of 2012, when Colorado voters took the chance to become one of the first two states to legalize marijuana through a ballot initiative.
At the time, Polis was serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and had established himself as an advocate for cannabis reform. But he disappointed some advocates by taking a neutral position on the marijuana measure that voters ultimately passed.
He’s now one of the strongest allies to the movement and industry, and he recently participated in an event with U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) to mark the success of Colorado’s cannabis program near the 10-year anniversary of the 2012 vote.
Whether the psychedelics initiative is ultimately approved by voters and Polis finds himself similarly situated 10 years from now remains to be seen.
It should be noted that the governor’s reluctance to endorse the measure at this stage also comes as some psychedelics reform advocates are actively opposing the initiative, including one led by some activists who pushed for an alternative legalization measure that didn’t make the ballot.
Those activists have argued that the initiative imposes too many regulations for entheogenic substances and would benefit corporate interests that want to provide psychedelic treatment services.
Earlier this year, Polis indicated he generally backs removing penalties for psychedelics.
“I generally don’t think that things like that should be dealt with through a criminal setting,” he said.
Psychedelics “might have some therapeutic uses around people that are trying to get off of opioids or people [with] major issues with depression or anxiety,” the governor added. “There are some clinical studies that have been done—and frankly, the clinical studies are inhibited by the illegality of some of the substances. So it’s very frustrating.”
Meanwhile, Polis’s Republican opponent Heidi Ganahl said during Friday’s debate that she’s opposed to the idea of legalizing additional drugs.
“I know Jared Polis is very tight with the pot industry—and it’s legal, I respect the voters of Colorado,” she said. “But we’ve got to do everything we can to protect our kids right now, and I don’t believe legalizing more drugs is the right path for our children.”
Of course, the same basic argument was made by opponents of the state’s cannabis initiative. And by the admission of prior opponents including Hickenlooper and Hancock, those concerns did not come to fruition—with evidence indicating that underage marijuana use either remains stable or declines following state-level legalization.
Oregon voters did approve a 2020 measure to legalize psilocybin therapy, but the treatment centers have not yet opened so there’s still no clear model for that part of the reform.
Here’s what the Natural Medicine Health Act initiative would accomplish if approved by voters:
Possession, use, cultivation and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn would be legalized for adults 21 and older, without an explicit possession limit. There would be no recreational sales component.
Under the proposal, the Department of Regulatory Agencies would be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older could visit a licensed healing center to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
There would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin and psilocyn would be permitted for therapeutic use at licensed healing centers until June 2026. After that point, regulators could decide whether to also permit regulated therapeutic use of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.
A new 15-member Natural Medicine Advisory Board would be responsible for making recommendations on adding substances to the program, and the Department of Regulatory Agencies could then authorize those recommended additions.
The advisory board’s membership would specifically include people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.
People who have completed their sentence for a conviction related to an offense made legal under the act would be able to petition the courts for record sealing. If there’s no objection from the district attorney, the court would need to automatically clear that record.
Two recent polls paint conflicting pictures about how voters will come down on the historic initiative.
One gave a sobering outlook for the initiative, with only 36 percent of voters saying they’d support it. The other, commissioned by the campaign, showed support at 60 percent when respondents were given the technical title and 70 percent when they were informed on the specifics of its provisions.
Meanwhile, Polis signed a bill in June to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use.