Within the next few years, it is highly likely that Coloradoans will be able to legally use and share magic mushrooms in Colorado.  And, within the next decade, they will likely be sold like cannabis in dispensaries across the country.

And this Magical Mystery Tour all started right here in Denver.

Three years ago, Vice News interviewed me about Ordinance 301, a ballot issue being proposed in Denver to decriminalize psilocybin or magic mushrooms.

Vice reached out to me because I was the Denver City Attorney in 2012 when recreational marijuana was passed and Denver was the first city in the world to implement this law.  I was opposed to that initiative because I believed that it would devastate Colorado’s pristine reputation and with it, our ability to recruit and retain businesses as well as our strong tourism industry.

That was my initial flashback when this issue–which was flying under the radar–was raised to me by Vice News.  Having been part of the cannabis revolution, I responded to them by saying, “I think we have the experience from the marijuana issue that shows the sky’s not going to fall if this passes.”

Indeed, hindsight is 20/20 and the record reflects that both Denver and Colorado did a tremendous job of creating a robust cannabis regulatory system that other states have used as their model.  The list of horrors never materialized here.  In fact, if anything, cannabis legalization had the opposite impact.

Ordinance 301 followed a similar path and Denver became the first city in America to decriminalize psilocybin with a razor-thin 50.56% margin in May 2019.

Today, advocates continue to test the waters of new substances using the cannabis legalization playbook.  And, quietly, a national movement has emerged gaining traction in conservative and liberal cities and states alike with the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

Psilocybin, like cannabis, is a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, along with fentanyl and heroin, meaning that the government views psilocybin as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. As a result, it is completely illegal under federal law.  And, like cannabis, the Drug Enforcement Agency, would like you to believe the narrative that psilocybin mushrooms are very dangerous.

But is it?

There is increasing evidence that the DEA appears to be the ones hallucinating here as psilocybin has been found to be the safest of all drugs people take recreationally, according to the Global Drug Survey, which is the world’s biggest annual drug survey.  Unlike fentanyl and heroin, the risk of fatal overdose or addiction is very small.  “Death from toxicity is almost unheard of with poisoning with more dangerous fungi seeing a much greater risk in terms of serious harms”.

Medical research has shown that psilocybin has significant promise as an effective treatment for a broad range of health issues from substance abuse disorders like alcohol and opioid addiction, to smoking cessation, and, even treating depression. And, there is also mounting evidence of the psychological benefits from the experience of taking the drug.

The research and experience explain why veterans, a powerful national lobbying voice, have become key advocates in advancing psilocybin issues across the country, as it has helped them with the treatment of mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

In 2020, Oregon became the first state to legalize the drug with a margin of 55%. Many other major cities and states, have moved to decriminalize or deprioritize the prosecution of the drug, while other jurisdictions have passed measures to conduct further research into the medical benefits of psilocybin.

Indeed, the research is evolving, but so promising that the FDA in 2019 designated this as a breakthrough therapy for depression.

Psilocybin has also become a potentially lucrative investment, and one major national law firm has already created a Psychedelics and Emerging Therapies Practice Group to help clients navigate the complexities of this emerging industry.

This November, Colorado voters will weigh in on Initiative 58. Led by veteran political consultant Rick Ridder of RBI Strategies along with Kevin Matthews, campaign manager for the Denver initiative, the Natural Medicine Health Act would create a state-regulated system for safe and supported access to natural medicine like psilocybin mushrooms.

Adults 21 and older could access natural medicines, including psilocybins that show promise in improving mental wellness while under the guidance of a licensed and trained facilitator at licensed healing centers, in the comfort and safety of their own home or in approved health care locations like palliative care facilities. It would remove all criminal penalties for personal use and possession of natural psychedelic medicines.  Ridder aptly said, “why put people in jail for trying to heal themselves?”

No opposition has formed to this initiative and I expect Colorado voters will embrace this proposal making it the second state to take such action, particularly as they learn more about the issue.

Unlike the early days of cannabis legalization, there has not been any suggestion that the federal government will step in and derail these city and state experiments.

In fact, they have shown signs of serious interest in researching the benefits even further. The National Institutes of Health granted Johns Hopkins Medicine, in collaboration with University of Alabama at Birmingham and New York University, $4 million to investigate whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking.

Once again, expect Colorado to be on the forefront of important national policy developments.

Doug Friednash is a Denver native, a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, and the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

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