Joshua Kappel Is a Person to Watch in Colorado in 2024 | Westword
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People to Watch 2024: Joshua Kappel Pushes Psychedelics Policy

"If you're making positive change in the world, there are always going to be people hating on what you’re doing,"
Josh Kappel
Josh Kappel Vicente LLP
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Business owners, lawyers and lobbyists across Colorado have been scurrying to carve out pieces of the state's emerging mushroom space since voters decriminalized and legalized certain psychedelics late last year. As one of a handful of attorneys who co-wrote the groundbreaking Proposition 122, Joshua Kappel had already secured a seat at the table, and his plate should be full in 2024.

The Vicente LLP lawyer began his career in the trenches of the fight for cannabis legalization in 2007, taking leading roles in Students for Sensible Drug Policy while at the University of Denver, then with the Amendment 64 campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado. After developing a "deep relationship" with psychedelics and being approached to help with the effort to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver about five years ago, Kappel began wading deeper into psychedelics and away from cannabis.

Now, a year after pushing through the most comprehensive set of psychedelics reform laws in the country's history,
Kappel finds himself consulting on similar efforts across the United States, with influential roles in Massachusetts's current psychedelic initiative and as an advisor to the Healing Advocacy Fund, an organization that helps with the implementation of new psychedelic laws in both Colorado and Oregon.

"I learned that anything is possible when we were part of the first state to legalize cannabis. People said it couldn't be done, and people at law school said I would never get another job," he says. "Now my duty and drama for the next year is to make sure this keeps working, that we put together regulations that are safe and responsible and inclusive — regulations that honor the indigenous medicine keepers who’ve been working in medicine for so long."
click to enlarge two men celebrating
Joshua Kappel and Kevin Matthews celebrate the passage of Proposition 122.
Vicente LLP
Kappel isn't on any government boards right now, estimating that around 90 to 95 percent of his clients work in the psychedelics space. He calls himself a "nerdy policy attorney," but recognizes that he's in a "unique position" as one of a select handful of psychedelics attorneys who have the ear of government officials. Kappel works hard behind the scenes as state psychedelics boards convene with the Colorado Department of Regulatory Affairs and the Colorado Department of Revenue, and is regularly consulted on his legal interpretation of Colorado's new psychedelics law.

Not all of Colorado's psychedelic community agrees with Kappel's strategy, however; some factions are critical that he and Prop 122's co-authors didn't pursue more allowances for personal use and spiritual guidance. Other critics believe he has too much influence over Colorado's natural medicine regulators.

"If you're making positive change in the world, there are always going to be people hating on what you’re doing," Kappel says. "There was a group of people who wanted the policy to be better, and 'better' is generally more liberal or permissive. It's not like I don’t share those goals, but at the end of the day, you have to make changes that the people of Colorado are comfortable with. I try my best to listen to everyone, and there are many decision makers in any movement."

Kappel plans to be busy next year monitoring how state and local governments implement the medical psilocybin program. Applications could be available for Colorado mushroom cultivators, processors and facilitators as early as late 2024 or early 2025; while local municipalities aren't allowed to ban such businesses, they can add time, place and manner rules. All of this will shape how medical psilocybin is viewed in Colorado and across the country as more states consider similar action, he says, and it could impact upcoming DORA decisions about the future medical legality of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.

"It will be very interesting with how local governments zone these businesses and what is put in place around them, and how these conversations and lessons learned in Colorado affect other states," Kappel notes. "So this is my duty right now: to help make this program work in Colorado."

Other People to Watch in 2024:

Dede de Percin, CEO of Colorado Village Collaborative
JR Payne, Head Coach of CU Women's Basketball
Thoa and An Nguyen, Chefs Doing It Their Way
Andrea Gibson, Colorado's New Poet Laureate
Mario Nocifera and Robert Champion, Nightlife Kings
Joshua Kappel, Psychedelics Policy Advisor
Tim Hernandez, Colorado Capitol's New Firebrand
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