Colorado and Texas Governors Come Together Over Psychedelics | Westword
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Governors Jared Polis, Rick Perry Come Together Over Psychedelics

"The idea that he and I are together is bit of magic."
MAPS founder Rick Doblin welcomes a crowd of about 5,000 people to Psychedelic Science with a visual joke about LSD in Chicago, which also stands for Lake Shore Drive.
MAPS founder Rick Doblin welcomes a crowd of about 5,000 people to Psychedelic Science with a visual joke about LSD in Chicago, which also stands for Lake Shore Drive. Thomas Mitchell
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Denver's connection with psychedelic medicine just got about five times stronger.

Psychedelic Science, a major industry conference for advocates and professionals in the psychedelic space, welcomed around 12,000 registrants to downtown Denver today, June 21. This is the first of three days of the event open to the general public, and the expo is already breaking records. According to the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the organizer of Psychedelic Science, the turnout in Denver is about five times larger than at the last Psychedelic Science gathering, held in 2017 in Oakland.

The excitement at the Colorado Convention Center is palpable; just over six months ago, Colorado voters approved Proposition 122, a landmark initiative legalizing the medical use of psilocybin while also decriminalizing the personal cultivation and use of psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline that is not from peyote. Celebrity speakers ranging from Aaron Rodgers to Melissa Etheridge are on the agenda, with concerts, mixers and microdosing meetups taking place around town throughout the week.

MAPS founder Rick Doblin started the organization nearly forty years ago and held its first event, a small gathering in Oakland, in 1990. Standing in an all-white suit in front of a packed crowd of 5,000 people at the convention center's Bellco Theatre, Doblin reflected on how far the movement has come.

"I can only wonder, am I tripping? I think it's not that I’m tripping — it's that culture is tipping," he told the audience. "Welcome to the Psychedelic ’20s!"

To show how strong the psychedelic-reform movement is getting, MAPS trotted out keynote speakers from two different sides of the political spectrum to kick off the expo: Colorado Governor Jared Polis and former Texas governor Rick Perry, who appeared right after Doblin, dressed in all black.

"You've seen the light. I'm the dark, knuckle-dragging, right-wing former governor of the state of Texas," Perry told the crowd. "The idea that he and I are together is a bit of magic."

Perry says he doesn't consider himself a full-on advocate of psychedelics, but became interested in natural medicine's potential to treat post-traumatic stress after meeting former Navy SEAL and Lone Survivor author Marcus Luttrell in 2006. Subsequent talks with Luttrell and other military veterans suffering from trauma made Perry a believer in the potential of mental health benefits from psilocybin, MDMA and other psychedelic substances.

"The reason I am on this stage today, and hopefully a lot of you are this way, is because you had the courage to understand that your reputation is not more important than these young people's lives," Perry said. "Let's look at what the results are. Let's not look at what the government tells us. Let's not look at what somebody tells us is right and wrong."

According to MAPS, both MDMA and psilocybin are in stage 2 and stage 3 trials with the United States Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of depression and PTSD. If the results continue to come in as anticipated, Colorado and Oregon — which have already legalized psychedelic treatment — and other states that join them in the future could eventually offer psilocybin or MDMA treatment paid for by insurance.

Polis, who never publicly supported Prop 122 but has praised it since the measure passed, told the crowd that he has "no personal connection" to psychedelic medicine. For him, supporting psychedelic use is "values-based" and more about "body autonomy" for Colorado adults.

"We are facing very difficult challenges in mental and behavioral health and are very excited about the opportunities," Polis said. "In many of these areas, including cannabis, the people of our state, and not the politicians, led the way."

Polis said he wants to see Colorado enact laws that immediately mirror any federal rulings that loosen the medical restrictions around psilocybin (MDMA is still illegal in Colorado). This would open psychedelic therapy up to insurance coverage, according to the governor.

"Yes, that’s right. People will no longer need to go to Mexico or Colombia. They can come right here to Colorado," he explained, noting that it is "ridiculous in this day and age” that prescription drugs are covered by insurance but healing centers are not.

"Once it's federally scheduled to be a pharmaceutical, it will immediately be rescheduled in Colorado," he added. "We want people to say...Colorado got this right. Look, I'm sure we'll get a few things wrong, but we can learn from them and build upon them."

Doblin and MAPS have high hopes for the movement that Colorado's psychedelic space is leading right now, with a goal for the entire United States to have "net-zero trauma by 2070." According to Doblin, countries already have formulas to measure gross national happiness and democratic processes, so measuring a nation's trauma is doable. Getting to his target of zero might take more work, however.

"What we're really going to need to do is prioritize going to global communities with larger burdens of trauma and fewer resources of treatment. We're going to need to use psychedelics for conflict resolution," he said, pointing to recent experiments involving Israelis and Palestinians using ayahuasca together to find common ground. "Psychedelics are just tools."
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