Colorado voters approved an initiative on the ballot to legalize possession of certain psychedelics and create psilocybin “healing centers” on Tuesday.
More than four years after Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize so-called magic mushrooms, setting off a national reform movement, the state has now legalized low-level possession of a variety of psychedelics while following Oregon’s lead in authorizing licensed facilities to administer supervised psilocybin services.
Here’s what the Natural Medicine Health Act initiative will accomplish:
Possession, use, cultivation and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn will be legalized for adults 21 and older, without an explicit possession limit. There will be no recreational sales component.
The Department of Regulatory Agencies will be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older can visit a licensed healing center to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
There will be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin and psilocyn will be permitted for therapeutic use at licensed healing centers until June 2026. After that point, regulators can decide whether to also permit regulated therapeutic use of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.
A new 15-member Natural Medicine Advisory Board will 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 will 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 will be able to petition the courts for record sealing. If there’s no objection from the district attorney, the court will need to automatically clear that record.
“This is a truly historic moment. Colorado voters saw the benefit of regulated access to natural medicines, including psilocybin, so people with PTSD, terminal illness, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can heal,” measure’s co-proponents Kevin Matthews and Veronica Lightening Horse Perez said in a press release. “We look forward to working with the regulatory and medical experts and other stakeholders to implement this new law.”
Leading up to Election Day, several polls painted conflicting pictures about how voters would come down on the historic initiative.
One survey commissioned by the campaign showed support at 60 percent when respondents were read the ballot title, which then increased to 70 percent when they were informed of the specifics of its provisions.
But a pair of media polls showed the measure behind, though appearing a gain support as Election Day neared. One, conducted in September, had the initiative trailing 41 percent to 36 percent. Another, released last week, showed it behind by only one point, 44 percent to 43 percent.
Certain psychedelics reform advocates had actively opposed the initiative, including some activists who pushed for an alternative legalization measure that didn’t make the ballot.
Those activists argued that the initiative imposes too many regulations for entheogenic substances and would benefit corporate interests that want to provide psychedelic treatment services.
“We cannot forget that the decriminalization and personal use protections are the most important part of this measure and unfortunately the most vulnerable,” Nicole Foerster of Decriminalize Nature Boulder County said in a press release on Wednesday. “Many of us who voted no support decriminalization but believe the measure should have stopped there rather than prioritizing regulated access.”
“If corporate, non-medical access to sacred plants will now be legal in Colorado with regulations that are vague and largely undetermined, it is important to ensure that no one is incarcerated while the few who are able to enter the market are able to legally profit,” Foerster said.
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.
Voters are also deciding on marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota on Tuesday.