Colorado Psychedelics Community Protesting Proposed Social Media Ban | Westword

Colorado Psychedelics Community Protesting Proposed Social Media Ban

A bill aimed at protecting kids on social media could ban content related to decriminalized psychedelics for all users, advocates worry.
The bill would ban social media accounts from posting about certain controlled substances, including the psychedelics that were decriminalized in Colorado in 2022, to users of all ages.
The bill would ban social media accounts from posting about certain controlled substances, including the psychedelics that were decriminalized in Colorado in 2022, to users of all ages. Jacqueline Collins
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Advocates of natural psychedelic medicine are marching on the State Capitol today before testifying against a social media bill currently making its way through the Colorado Legislature.

Meaghan Richmond opened Plant Magic Cafe as a place where the psychedelics community could gather and educate people interested in psilocybin, DMT and other natural psychedelics that are now decriminalized in Colorado. The cafe regularly hosts roundtable discussions and craft markets, as well as events at which adults legally share small amounts of psilocybin as longtime growers or facilitators teach them about psychedelics.

"The programming is founded in education," Richmond says. "And where does the public go for information nowadays? Social media. And if they're limited on social media, I don't feel like this is going to help people get information."

She's referring to a legislative measure aimed at changing how children use social media — Senate Bill 24-158 — that could push Plant Magic Cafe and other businesses connected to decriminalized psychedelics off Instagram, Twitter and other popular platforms. So Richmond sent out a call to action through Plant Magic Cafe's social media channels for a march and rally at the Capitol at noon today, May 1, before signing up to testify against the bill.

According to Richmond, the bill would ban social media accounts from posting about certain controlled substances, including the psychedelics that were decriminalized by Proposition 122 in 2022, to users of all ages. Certain consumable hemp products and over-the-counter cough syrups would be off limits, as well.

Richmond says that operating on Instagram and Facebook is already difficult because of policies and algorithms that flag federally illegal substances with state-legal sectors, such as cannabis and psychedelics, while TikTok's approach is even less tolerant.

SB 158, sponsored by state Senator Dafna Michaelson Jenet, proposes age verification and time limitation tools for juvenile social media use, as well as increased parental or guardian surveillance and censorship of certain material. Under the bill, parents could request notifications when their children interact with an adult user's account and when their kids' accounts post or interact with sexually exploitative material. (The child would be notified of these settings in place, too.)

The measure would also prohibit users of all ages from promoting or selling illegal firearms, illicit substances or sexually exploitative material involving minors. According to the proposal, platforms would have to comply with law enforcement inquiries and remove users engaging in such activities.

One of three bills addressing youth social media use this year, SB 158 could help "change the world our kids are growing up in," Michaelson Jenet told Westword earlier this year, adding that the harms of social media will "continue to mount" if measures aren't taken to stop them.

A state Department of Public Health and Environment survey of Colorado schools in 2021 showed nearly 40 percent of high-schoolers reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for prolonged periods. In a report published last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, data showed the rate of young Coloradans who reported poor mental health had more than doubled from 2016 to 2021.

Although she understands the bill's overall intention of protecting kids from the immediate and long-term dangers of social media, Richmond calls the policy against psychedelics a "violation of freedom of speech and extreme censorship."

"We totally understand wanting [to protect children]; however, we don't think censoring information is a good idea," Richmond argues. If the bill is successful, she worries she'll have to get off America's most popular internet platforms and adopt a private subscription model.

Colorado's marijuana industry vocally opposed the bill earlier this year because of similar language that would have included cannabis. An amendment was later added to allow medical and retail marijuana content as long as the materials or promotions comply with the state's laws — but hemp products with small amounts of THC or those intended for human consumption that aren't “a dietary supplement, a food, a food additive, or an herb” would still be banned.

"This bill threatens my livelihood and First Amendment rights," Ashley Troxell, a psychedelic guide in Denver, said during a Senate committee hearing in March. "By making it illegal for social media platforms to allow any promotion of natural medicines, this bill threatens to silence valuable education and harm reduction efforts, as well as the sharing of personal experiences that help to destigmatize and promote responsible personal use."

The state Senate approved the bill on April 17. With just a week left in the 2024 legislative session, SB 158 will have its first House hearing this afternoon.

Psychedelics in Colorado

In 2022, Colorado became the second state — after Oregon — to legalize medical psilocybin, and the first state to decriminalize the cultivation, possession and sharing of certain natural psychedelics, including DMT, mescaline and psilocybin, for adults 21 and over (ibogaine can be grown and possessed, but not shared). California and Massachusetts could soon enact forms of statewide psychedelics reform, too, according to activists, while national interest in psilocybin has reached new heights.

Psilocybin was designated as a breakthrough depression therapy by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2019 and has shown even more potential since then. In 2022, Johns Hopkins University research determined that psilocybin could serve as a "substantial antidepressant" for up to a year for some patients when paired with supportive therapy. Psychedelics such as ibogaine, methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA) and psilocybin have shown therapeutic promise for post-traumatic stress disorder as well, with all three drugs becoming increasingly popular among military veterans with combat trauma.

Recreational use and self-medication with edibles and drinks infused with psilocybin are also on the rise, according to rulemaking hearings held by Colorado's Natural Medicine Division, a new arm of the Department of Revenue created to regulate commercial activity surrounding medical psilocybin. Police are noticing, too.

Psilocybin seizures by law enforcement across the country have increased dramatically since the mid-2010s, according to a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with the number of magic mushroom seizures across the country going from 402 in 2017 to 1,396 in 2022. However, a growing number of cities have decriminalized the possession of psilocybin since Denver became the first city to do so in 2019.
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