Top Colorado Senator Files Psychedelics Regulations Bill, Drawing Mixed Reactions
Colorado’s Senate president has filed a bill to enact regulations for the possession, cultivation and use of certain psychedelics for personal, therapeutic and spiritual purposes—giving a preview of the policy landscape that may emerge following voter approval of a legalization ballot initiative last year.
The legislation seeks to set rules on “healing centers” where adults 21 and older could receive psychedelic treatment, tighten up policies on cultivation and facilitators, establish licensing requirements, dictate state agency regulatory responsibilities and impose penalties for unsanctioned activities.
While possession, cultivation and sharing certain entheogenic substances became legal for adults after Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a proclamation certifying the voter-approved ballot measure late last year, the initiative called for an advisory board to develop regulatory recommendations to inform more holistic legislation covering access to supervised psychedelic services and other issues.
But as that process moves ahead, Senate President Steve Fenberg (D) filed a bill on Tuesday that would establish a separate regulatory framework for psychedelics, including provisions that depart from the ballot measure and others that are opposed by certain advocates.
Mason Marks, a law professor at the Florida State University College of Law and co-founder of the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) at the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, said that the legislation proposes some “sweeping changes” to the initiative that voters passed last November.
“A few proposed changes represent clear improvements to the original text,” he said. “Others appear to contradict the voters’ will, potentially recriminalizing some psychedelic-related activities. Some changes appear to add unnecessary complexity and potential for confusion.”
Here are some of the key components of the bill:
The bill would maintain the voter-approved ballot measure’s policy of placing no limits on personal possession of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn by adults 21 and older.
Public consumption of psychedelics and underage use would be punishable by a $100 fine.
Adults could only cultivate natural psychedelics, and that activity would need to be at a private residence in an enclosed space that could not exceed 12 by 12 feet—unless within a locality that enacted a policy allowing larger grows. Cultivating beyond prescribed limits wold be punishable by a $1,000 fine.
There would be a pathway for record sealing for people with prior convictions for psychedelic-related activities that have been made legal.
A new Division of Natural Medicine under the Department of Revenue (DOR) would play a central role in regulating the therapeutic program and issuing licenses for cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and healing centers. That’s one difference from the initiative, which gave primary responsibilities to the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA).
Facilitators who provide psychedelic services, including community-based healing programs and counseling, could not be compensated or reimbursed if they are operating outside of the licensing framework.
An Indigenous community working group—which was not contemplated in the ballot initiative—would be created within DORA to identify and address unintended consequences of the reform, particularly as it concerns the possible commercialization of psychedelics and religious or spiritual exploitation of native people.
The legislation clarifies that synthetic psychedelics are not permitted. And possessing psychedelics with “hazardous materials” like solvents would be considered a Class 2 felony.
Initially only psilocybin and psilocyn could be administered at healing centers, but regulators could add additional psychedelics. The bill differs from the ballot measure by making it so regulators would be able to authorize the supervised use of ibogaine at the facilities at any time, rather than waiting until at least June 1, 2026, as is the case for mescaline and DMT.
There would be four categories of licenses: healing centers, cultivation facilities, product manufacturers and and testing facilities.
The bill maintain’s the ballot measures provisions to block localities from banning healing centers, but says they may enact rules governing time, place and manner of operations.
The deadline for regulators to start accepting and reviewing license applications would be pushed back from September 30, 2024 to December 31, 2024.
Licensed psychedelic businesses will be able to deduct expenses from their state taxes, in a partial workaround to the federal 280E provision.
The bill’s findings section notes that “although there may be tremendous potential in utilizing natural medicine for managing various mental health conditions, healing, and spiritual growth, this potential must be appropriately balanced with the health and safety risks that it could pose to consumers as well as the cultural harms it could pose to indigenous and traditional communities that have connections to natural medicine.”
“Considerable harm may occur to indigenous people, communities, cultures, and religions if natural medicine is overly commodified, commercialized, and exploited in a manner that results in the erasure of important cultural and religious context,” it says.
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A hearing on the legislation is scheduled in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday. Lawmakers face a tight deadline to get the measure passed through the legislature before the session ends in about two weeks.
The bill has received mixed early reactions, with some advocates tentatively supporting the basic framework and others strongly opposing the proposal because of what they consider to be excessive regulations.
“The biggest concerns right now are the obvious recriminalization of common, traditional uses of natural medicine,” citizen lobbyist David Nadelson told Westword. “The simple act of ceremonial sharing of sacred medicine in a forest is criminalized. Growing plants outdoors is criminalized except for small, fenced-in spaces. Guides and healers cannot be compensated when natural medicine is involved.”
Tasia Poinsatte, director of the Healing Advocacy Fund of Colorado, said in a press release on Wednesday that the legislation “is an important step toward reaching that goal, but more work needs to be done to ensure this bill equitably and effectively implements Prop. 122 in a way that reflects the will of the voters.”
“We’re hopeful that by the end of the legislative process, this bill will complement the strong foundation created by Prop. 122,” Poinsatte said.
Melanie Rose Rodgers, a psychedelics reform advocate who was among those who opposed the ballot proposition, announced a lobby day for interested parties to make their voices heard ahead of Thursday’s committee hearing.
Tomorrow is Lobby Day at the Capitol… this bill still doesn’t have a # yet we’re told it will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee 4/20 mid-morning.. this doesn’t give Coloradans ample time to prep, review 87 pages of the bill draft & stakehold #copolitics #coleg #Prop122 pic.twitter.com/ORgNLtCdAM
— Melanie Rose Rodgers (@melanierose) April 18, 2023
She told Healing Maps that activists are “going to have to defend ceremonial use” and that the bill “doesn’t seem natural at all” as drafted.
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