It’s been almost three months since Denver voters approved a measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. And now, the campaign behind that successful initiative is expanding nationally—even globally.
Decriminalize Denver is rebranding as it evolves into SPORE, or the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education. Kevin Matthews, the group’s executive director, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that SPORE is “hub for education” that’s simultaneously “working to educate Denver residents” about implementation of local decriminalization while also serving as “advocates for the national conversation.”
“We recognized that there’s a need for a national advocacy group for psilocybin and other psychedelics, and SPORE is going to fill that space,” he said.
To an extent, SPORE will be sharing that space with Decriminalize Nature, the reform organization that advanced a broad psychedelics decriminalization through the Oakland City Council last month and is working to get a similar resolution approved in Berkeley and other cities. Matthews said the difference between the groups mostly comes down to strategy.
“We’re much more interested in localizing the national psychedelics constituency and really supporting people in other areas where they live—either with messaging or best practices,” he said. “If people are running actual campaigns, [SPORE will be] helping with fundraising, finding donors.”
“It’s great that [Decriminalize Nature] is doing their thing and we’re doing ours—and we’re still figuring out how to work together—but a rising tide raises all ships and the more we can collaborate with each other, that’ll make this movement that much more powerful across the country,” he said.
As SPORE navigates the process of gaining 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization accreditation—with later plans to obtain 501(c)(4) status to allow lobbying—it’s already started getting the gears turning in a number of jurisdictions. Matthews said that the group is in talks with activists in Arizona, Missouri, Washington, D.C. and even the United Kingdom.
“This is no longer just a national conversation. It’s 100 percent global.”
Unlike their approach in Denver, which had a singular focus on removing criminal penalties for psilocybin alone, SPORE is open to supporting reform efforts that involve all entheogenic substances, including ayahuasca and ibogaine.
But whereas Decriminalize Nature has so far made such comprehensive psychedelics decriminalization the standard for its reform resolutions, SPORE says it plans to take a more strategic and tailored approach, making sure that wherever activists they support are seeking change, it’s within the realm of political possibility.
“I think Oakland might be one of the few places in the country where they could actually decriminalize all entheogens,” Matthews said. “I don’t really believe that’s something that can happen in a lot more places in the country, especially if you’re working directly with city councils.”
“But we don’t want to limit the scope of our work,” he added. “If individuals choose to work with us who are looking at psilocybin and other substances, then that’s great. We just have to make sure that if we’re going to dedicate time and resources to those organizations that they’ve really done their research and they understand the demographic and what’s actually possible.”
SPORE’s localized reform approach will be complemented by efforts to win favor with federal lawmakers, too. Matthews pointed to an amendment introduced this year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) aimed at promoting research into psychedelics as evidence that the time is ripe for a national dialogue about the issue.
The measure, despite having been overwhelmingly rejected on the House floor, is “a pretty big deal, and this is the kind of thing where we believe drug policy reform should be at the forefront of public discourse during this election cycle considering that the U.S. government spends billions of dollars every year enforcing the drug war,” he said.
“We know it doesn’t work. We know that a majority of our nation’s inmates have mental health issues and substance abuse issues. They’re not getting the help they need,” Matthews said. “In many ways right now this is a very unique opportunity to start really pressing a national conversation.”
“This mental health and addiction crisis is being ignored by most people… If we have a tool like psilocybin that can be used to directly address this issue and actually get people the help they need—that’s either free or doesn’t cost very much—then I think we should go that route because it’s about saving lives now at this point. It’s imperative that we start to really start to change the hearts and minds of individuals all across the country. We’re in an emergency crisis with this.”
Matthews said that SPORE will likely be heading to the nation’s capital in the next few months to provide information to lawmakers and talk to members of what he dubbed the “Psychedelic Caucus”—the 90 representatives who voted in favor of Ocasio-Cortez’s measure.
“We really have a mission to mobilize this psychedelics constituency and see what kind of magic can happen because the health of our culture is at stake and the health of our society is at stake. And this constituency very specifically I think has a lot more political power than people realize,” he said. “If we can mobilize this group of people to create massive change, massive positive change, then we can see a radical transformation of our culture for the better.”
But in the meantime, SPORE will continue to work with Denver officials to ensure that the measure that sparked this national movement is effectively implemented. That will involve educating the local government and law enforcement and working with Denver on cosponsored “front-facing” public service announcements to raise awareness about psilocybin.
“There’s a lot that’s possible,” Matthews said. “Right now, with the public service announcements on the table and potentially receiving some funding from the city of Denver to get those going, which could mean billboards and ads on the back of transit buses.”
He added that he’s especially excited about the city’s review panel, which is “the only government body of its kind in the U.S. that’s geared specifically towards reviewing and assessing the impact of psilocybin decriminalization and potentially exploring what next steps can be.”
“Our work with the city is really setting a precedent for what this looks like moving forward in the country and we’re excited,” Matthews said. “We have more coming up.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.