Colorado Government

Lawmakers Propose Study of Natural Psychedelics for Mental Health Use

Colorado lawmakers have introduced a bill that would create a panel to study the nexus of natural psychedelics and mental health treatment.

"I think we're looking for anything and everything that can help," says Representative Alex Valdez, a Denver Democratic who is co-sponsoring House Bill 1116 with Senator Joann Ginal, a Democrat from Fort Collins, and Representative Edie Hooton, a Boulder Democrat.

The proposal calls for the panel to meet for a year to "study the use of plant-based medicines to support mental health, report its findings and make policy recommendations" to the Colorado General Assembly, the governor and other state officials. The bill allows for the study of four natural psychedelics: DMT, ibogaine, and psilocybin and psilocin, which are the active ingredients in psychedelic mushrooms.

"I was reading about how there had been some promising research done on the use of psychedelics in the treatment of mental health issues, and I thought, this is really interesting. Because we've known for years in some sense that through natural medicine, the earth provides a lot of the things that we need as people," says Valdez. "Our thought was, how do we do it right? How do we bring together a group of people that kind of cover all of the bases so that, as we potentially move forward with things like decriminalization or rescheduling, that as we're doing it, it's because it was determined as best practices by people who know."

The lawmakers have been working with VS Strategies, the advocacy affiliate of Vicente Sederberg, a law firm that has been heavily involved in drug-policy reform in Colorado and elsewhere in the United States. Vicente Sederberg also helped with the May 2019 Denver psychedelic mushroom decriminalization campaign, which voters approved by a slim margin. That made the Mile High City the first municipality in the U.S. to decriminalize magic mushrooms, although other cities and counties have since decriminalized certain natural psychedelics.

The proposed board would be composed of seventeen members, some of whom would be appointed by the governor, others by a bipartisan group of leaders in the Colorado Legislature. Physicians, veterans, natural healers, plant-based medicine advocates, Indigenous communities, criminal defense lawyers and law enforcement, among other categories, would be represented on the board.

The bill comes at a key time for psychedelics advocacy in Colorado.

In early December, New Approach PAC, a group that has supported various marijuana legalization efforts across the country and was involved in the recent Oregon vote to create legal, regulated access to psilocybin, submitted language for two decriminalization and legalized medical-use initiatives to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

One of the New Approach initiatives seeks to decriminalize ibogaine, DMT, mescaline (excluding peyote), psilocybin and psilocin for those 21 and older; the implementation of the decriminalization of these substances would be controlled by a Natural Medicine Advisory Board, with members appointed by the governor. Under this proposal, the state would also be in charge of licensing healers and healing centers that could supply these substances and assist people in using them. It would cap the allowable amount of the active psychoactive substance at four grams.

The second initiative focuses solely on decriminalizing psilocybin and psilocin; decriminalization would be implemented by the Department of Regulatory Agencies. Otherwise, the process would follow many of the protocols outlined in the first initiative, but just for psilocybin mushrooms.

New Approach has been working with Kevin Matthews, the head of the successful Denver mushroom decriminalization campaign, who is now lobbying on its behalf in Colorado. "Creating new opportunities for people to heal is what drives us, and we look forward to engaging with Colorado residents on this issue," Matthews says.

But some grassroots advocates, including Nicole Foerster of Decriminalize Nature Boulder County. are concerned about certain aspects of the initiatives, including proposed limits on the amount of a substance that a person can possess.

"They're looking to create these top-down restrictive policies in places where grassroots community has been the strongest and where policy has been passed by grassroots community," Foerster says.

Both initiatives are still in the approval process at the secretary of state's office, which needs to sign off before proponents can gather signatures.

The bill introduced in the legislature is not connected to the initiative efforts.

"I generally don't believe a broad decriminalization is going to be successful on a statewide level," Valdez says. "If nothing else, if the voters of Colorado do decide to decriminalize psilocybin, it just adds more information."

HB 1116 would add even more information. The bill propose that the board not only explore rescheduling and decriminalization of psychedelics, but also examine the production, distribution and safe access of natural psychedelics, in addition to determining the proper dosages for treating mental health disorders.

Concludes Valdez: "Colorado needs to be the type of place that embraces the future of medicine."