Colorado Government

Polis Uses HBO Appearance to Cool Down Colorado's Trippy Reputation

A decade after legalizing recreational marijuana, Colorado voters entered the mushroom era.
A decade after legalizing recreational marijuana, Colorado voters entered the mushroom era. Anthony Camera
Governor Jared Polis says he's all in on Colorado's plans for psychedelics but wants to keep them focused on the medicinal aspects.

Polis appeared on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher on November 11 to talk about a variety of issues, including the recent mid-term elections, a possible presidential bid and the state of the Democratic Party, but his conversation with the comedian inevitably turned to ’shrooms.

Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana and an early adopter of medical marijuana; the passage of Proposition 122, making it the second state to legalize medical access to psilocybin mushrooms and potentially other psychedelic substances, has added to Colorado's "Rocky Mountain High" reputation. Polis never vocally supported Prop 122, however, and, in October, hadn't even made up his mind on how he would vote.

Now that Prop 122 has passed, though, Polis is behind the move to mushrooms.

"We all know this stuff takes decades or years, and it comes out costing $1,000 in a pill. It's ridiculous, so we want to make this available," he told Maher. "It's promising. We're going to work on getting it right from a health perspective in Colorado."

Maher, who was more enthusiastic about the fun side of magic mushrooms, asked the governor if he'd ever tried psilocybin. After saying that he'd never indulged, Polis focused on the medical aspects of Colorado's new law.

"There is a lot of promise that some of the mushroom-based therapies, natural medicines, show for post-traumatic stress disorder, for depression,” he noted.

A contingent of psychedelic therapy advocates and Indigenous groups opposed Prop 122, arguing that nationwide decriminalization of psychedelics had to come well before any legal-access framework was established. Supporters of a competing psychedelic initiative that failed to make the 2022 ballot worried that Prop 122 would lead to over-commercialization and inequity, similar to what happened with commercial marijuana in Colorado.

Polis stressed that Colorado wasn't going to approach psychedelics as it did marijuana, which was to allow a commercial market with hundreds of dispensaries selling it recreationally throughout the state. While personal possession of mushrooms is no longer illegal and the state will sign off on healing centers for medical psilocybin use, Polis said he doesn't see another multibillion-dollar retail industry popping up.
“This is more like the medical side for mushrooms. And then, yes, there’s no criminal penalties if you grow it yourself for recreational [purposes], but what we’re excited about are some of the medical opportunities,” he told Maher.

Polis's recent appointment of Alec Garnett, the term-limited former Speaker of the Colorado House, as his new chief of staff, had also raised eyebrows among the alternative medicine and recreation crowd. During his time as House Speaker, Garnett pushed through a bill that restricted access to medical marijuana and concentrated THC, for which he received an award from a national anti-marijuana group and lots of criticism from marijuana stakeholders.

Despite Garnett's recent battles with the pot lobby, however, several marijuana industry representatives don't see the new chief of staff influencing Polis on marijuana or psychedelics laws.

"As a political observer, I was a little surprised but not really concerned," one industry representative told Westword. "It's not like under Jared's administration [the chief of staff] would have the freedom to run things against potency. If anything, he would have to oppose those efforts. I don't really see it being an issue."

Under Prop 122, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies will be responsible for drafting a regulatory framework for psilocybin access, including production rules and guidelines for legal healing centers, by 2024. DMT, ibogaine and mescaline were also decriminalized in Colorado under the measure, but Colorado officials have until 2026 to study those substances and determine whether they should be legally accessible.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell

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