Colorado Officials Clear Psychedelics Legalization Ballot Language, Bringing Activists Closer To Signature Gathering
Colorado officials have approved the language of two more psychedelics reform initiatives from the same campaign that already passed that procedural step for two separate measures it submitted late last year, activists say.
Now it’s decision time. While the four proposals share commonalities—principally, ending criminalization of people over the use of certain entheogenic substances and providing some avenue for access—activists have to decide which stands the best chance of being approved by voters in November and would best serve the needs of Coloradans.
On Thursday, the secretary of state’s office signed off on the two latest measures—about a week after the Ballot Title Setting Board held a hearing on the language and assigned titles and summaries. Activists will need to collect 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters to achieve ballot access.
Kevin Matthews, the campaign manager behind Denver’s historic 2019 vote to locally decriminalize psilocybin, and Veronica Perez are the designated representatives of these measures, which are being supported by the national New Approach PAC.
“This is the culmination of years of advocacy for me and the excitement in the air is palpable,” Matthews told Marijuana Moment. “We’re looking forward to educating Colorado voters on the potential for regulated access to natural medicines to help with mental health issues.”
“Speaking directly with Denver residents about psilocybin was my favorite part about our campaign in 2019, but Denver is not Colorado,” he said. “Advocating statewide is a much different experience, and the opportunity to connect with folks across the state who otherwise may not consider natural medicines as a tool for health and mental wellness is an exciting challenge.”
The two newly approved measures are similar to one another. They would both legalize psilocybin and create licensed “healing centers” where people can use the psychedelic for therapeutic purposes.
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There would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin would be legalized and regulated for therapeutic use until June 2026, after which point regulators could expand the policy change to include other psychedelics that are listed in the proposal.
The decision to add additional psychedelics to the program would be made by the Department of Regulatory Agencies in consultation with a Natural Medicine Advisory Board that would be established. The board would be comprised of 15 members, including people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.
The key difference between the two is that one contains a component specifically authorizing people to petition courts for record sealing for past convictions that would be made legal under the proposal.
Under the proposals, 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.
Meanwhile, New Approach PAC hasn’t abandoned the two earlier measures that cleared procedural hurdles late last year.
The first of those earlier initiatives would legalize the possession, cultivation and an array of entheogenic substances, as well as establish a regulatory model for psychedelics therapy. The other is a similar, but somewhat more dialed-back proposal that would initially legalize psilocybin and psilocin alone for personal adult use while also allowing for their sale and administration in a therapeutic setting.
When deciding which measure to ultimately pursue, Matthews said that the most important factor is “what we believe will work for Colorado residents since they will be the folks most impacted by this policy and will have safe access to natural medicines if we’re successful in November.”
There’s another wrinkle in the push for statewide psychedelics reform in Colorado. A separate campaign spearheaded by Decriminalize Nature Boulder County, which has taken issue with the regulations prescribed in the aforementioned New Approach-backed measures, filed a competing initiative last month.
That one-page measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT.
Further, the measure says that it would be lawful to conduct psychedelics services for guidance, therapy and harm reduction and spiritual purposes with or without accepting payment. It would not be legal to sell any of the psychedelics, however.
The initiative must still be assigned an official ballot title and summary from the state before activists are approved to begin signature gathering. It has a hearing scheduled before the Ballot Title Setting Board on March 2.
Proponents of that measure have been critical of the New Approach initiative, expressing concern about the level of regulation that would go into the proposed therapeutic model.
Matthews said that the criticism “is in good faith, however we’re focused on the urgent mental and behavioral health needs Colorado residents are facing.”
“What we’re proposing with [the Natural Medicine Health Act] will make natural medicines truly and safely accessible to all Coloradans,” he said.
The Colorado ballot initiatives seek to accomplish something similar to what California activists are also actively pursuing. California advocates are in the process of collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.
Meanwhile, legislative efforts to enact psychedelics reform are also underway in other states across the country.
For example, two Hawaii Senate committees have recently approved a bill to set up a state working group to study the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin mushrooms and develop a “long-term” plan to ensure that the psychedelic is accessible for medical use for adults 21 and older.
A Utah Senate committee on Tuesday approved a House-passed bill to create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
An Oregon Senate committee also recently advanced a bill to ensure that equity is built into the state’s historic therapeutic psilocybin program that’s actively being implemented following voter approval in 2020.
Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill in committee last week to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.
A group of Maryland senators recently filed a bill that would create a state fund that could be used to provide free access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while also supporting research into their therapeutic potential.
A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill last month to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.
A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel last month, only to be pushed off until 2023. A separate Senate proposal to decriminalize psilocybin alone was later defeated in a key committee.
California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.
Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation last month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.
Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Similar legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature, requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
Michigan activists filed a statewide ballot initiative this month that would legalize possessing, cultivating and sharing psychedelics and set up a system for their therapeutic and spiritual use.
A pair of Michigan senators also introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last month, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.