Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.
Less than a month after activists turned in signatures for the “Natural Medicine Health Act,” the secretary of state’s office on Thursday announced that the campaign had successfully qualified the measure for the ballot.
The Natural Medicine Colorado campaign, which is backed by the national New Approach PAC, had submitted about 100,000 more signatures than required for ballot access, a sizable buffer that was the result of just about three months of petitioning.
“We’re deeply proud of the work that has led to this moment,” Kevin Matthews, one of two designated representatives for the initiative, said in a press release on Thursday. “These medicines hold such promise for people struggling with PTSD, depression, and other mental health challenges.”
“As we deal with a growing mental health crisis in our state, we need new tools to help Coloradans heal, and these are research-backed therapies that can work even where other treatments have failed,” Matthews, who also served as campaign manager for a first-of-its-kind local psilocybin decriminalization initiative that Denver voters approved in 2019, said.
The measure would legalize possession of certain psychedelics, establish a therapeutic model for supervised psilocybin treatment and provide a pathway for record sealing for prior convictions.
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.
Meanwhile, a separate campaign headed by Decriminalize Nature Colorado, which has taken issue with some of the regulations prescribed in the Natural Medicine Colorado measure, filed a competing initiative in January. Activists are still in the process of collecting signatures for that measure.
That campaign’s one-page proposal would simply allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, gift and deliver psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline and DMT.
Further, the initiative 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.
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For the Natural Medicine Health Act that has now qualified to go before voters, the secretary of state’s office announced that the random sampling they conducted of petitions projected that advocates had collected 138,760 valid signatures out of the 225,140 raw submissions that they turned in. They needed 124,632 to qualify.
“Mental health struggles are all around us,” Veronica Perez, co-designated representative for the measure, said. “Today we are one step closer to bringing so many people the help they need, one step closer to relief.”
Meanwhile, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) was recently asked about the prospects of enacting psychedelics reform in the state, and he acknowledged that advocates are working to accomplish that policy change at the ballot and also said he supports the idea of decriminalizing the substances.
Last month, Polis signed a bill to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use.
He also issued an executive order this month to provide broad professional licensing protections for workers who use marijuana in compliance with state law. The move further prevents state agencies from assisting in any out-of-state investigations related to lawful cannabis conduct that could result in employment penalties.
With respect of psychedelics, Colorado is far from the only state where reform is advancing.
The leader of the New Jersey Senate filed a bill last month that would legalize the possession, home cultivation and gifting of psilocybin mushrooms for adults 21 and older—with provisions that give adults even more freedoms for the psychedelic than are afforded under the state’s current marijuana laws.
The governor of Connecticut signed a large-scale budget bill in May that includes provisions to set the state up to provide certain patients with access to psychedelic-assisted treatment using substances like MDMA and psilocybin.
Maryland’s governor recently allowed a bill to go into law without his signature to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.
A Massachusetts-based campaign, Bay Staters for National Medicine (BSNM), is also supporting a statewide reform push to force state lawmakers to file legislation to both legalize entheogenic substances for therapeutic use and otherwise decriminalize certain psychedelics.
The Maine Senate approved a bill in April to to create a medical psilocybin program in the state, but the House of Representatives refused to go along.
Also that month, Georgia lawmakers advanced a bipartisan resolution that calls for the formation of a House study committee to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and make recommendations for reforms.
The governor of Utah signed a bill in March to create a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
A Missouri House committee also held a hearing that month on a GOP-led bill to legalize a wide range of psychedelics for therapeutic use at designated care facilities while further decriminalizing low-level possession in general.
The Washington State legislature recently sent a budget bill to the governor’s desk that includes a proposal to direct $200,000 in funding to support a new workgroup to study the possibility of legalizing psilocybin services in the state, including the idea of using current marijuana regulatory systems to track psychedelic mushrooms.
In March, the Hawaii Senate 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.
Also that month, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize low-level possession of psilocybin and promote research into the therapeutic potential of the psychedelic.
Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a pair of drug decriminalization bills in March—including one focused on psilocybin and buprenorphine that would authorize doctors to prescribe the psychedelic mushroom.
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.
A bill to decriminalize a wide array of psychedelics in Virginia was taken up by a House of Delegates panel in January, 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 in January 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.
Legislation was also enacted by the Texas legislature last year 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.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to DEA in January, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Activists and patients were recently arrested at the DEA headquarters after engaging in civil disobedience during a protest over the agency’s refusal to provide a waiver granting those patients access to psilocybin under Right to Try laws.
Colorado is also not the only state where voters may see drug policy reform measures on their November ballots:
North Dakota activists this month turned in what they believe to be enough signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative before voters.
Arkansas voters are poised to see a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot, with activists turning in what they say are more than double the required signatures to qualify the measure this month.
Oklahoma activists also said this month that they’ve submitted what they believe to be more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year, which the governor allowed to go into effect without his signature, that will put the issue of cannabis legalization before voters this November.
In May, South Dakota officials certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.
Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.
An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced in May. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
While Wyoming activists said earlier this year that they made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.