Denver Needs Experts for a Psychedelics Advisory Group | Westword
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Calling All Mushroom Lovers: Denver Needs Experts for Psychedelics Advisory Group

Denver's licensing department is looking for psychedelic lovers, healers and experts to join a new Natural Medicine Work Group.
Colorado voters decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline in 2022.
Colorado voters decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline in 2022. Unsplash/Marco Allegretti
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Colorado's shroom boom is almost here, with licenses for psilocybin healing centers, cultivation, manufacturing and testing facilities set to be issued in late 2024 or 2025.

Voters legalized the clinical and therapeutic use of psilocybin and decriminalized a handful of other natural psychedelics in 2022, but questions still linger about what is allowed and what isn't.

The City and County of Denver is looking to change that.

Starting in March, a roster of selected community members and experts in natural medicine, public health, public safety, youth advocacy, social justice and tribal Indigenous interests will begin meeting monthly to "review, discuss and make recommendations on policy direction and possible natural medicine licensing laws and rules," according to the Denver Department of Excise & Licenses, which is behind the formation of the city's new Natural Medicine Work Group (NMWG).

"Anybody who wants to participate and provide input will have that opportunity," says Molly Duplechian, executive director of Excise & Licenses.

Today, February 29, is the first day that people can start applying to be part of the NMWG.

"We are definitely looking for people with background and subject matter expertise, or lived experiences that we think are relevant here. But if there are just community members who have experience with natural medicine and want to have an input in how this model will look in Denver, we're also looking for those voices, as well," Duplechian says.

Denver was the first city in the country to decriminalize psilocybin, in 2019; the local ballot initiative also created a psilocybin work group that comprised psilocybin advocates and city and law enforcement officials. However, the NMWG is being created in response to the statewide Natural Medicine Health Act, or Proposition 122, which legalized medical psilocybin and decriminalized psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline for adults 21 and up.

Denver will be using the NMWG as an advisory board of sorts for the city council and Mayor Mike Johnston.

"It's not a decision-making body," Duplechian says. "We're not looking for consensus, we're looking for input. Once we get that, once we gather all that input and recommendations, we'll bring that forward to the city council, and the council will then have a vote on this. If we're proposing to create a new license, then the details of all that would need to go in ordinance, and that would be voted on by Denver City Council."

"The mayor gets the final say," she adds.

Colorado Psychedelic Laws

Colorado lawmakers passed a bill last year solidifying the Natural Medicine Health Act while also creating guardrails for certain activities related to psychedelics. However, there's currently no limit on psychedelics possession or a law related to off-site consumption, and both state and local law enforcement officials have said they're hesitant to take an enforcement-first approach until more laws or regulations are passed. This has led to a number of underground psilocybin product manufacturers and distributors, such as a magic mushroom co-op on Santa Fe Drive.

Regulation is something that Duplechian hopes to directly address with the work group.

"That's the part where we have a lot to learn and a lot to hear back from," she explains. "A lot of the work for that is also happening at the state level as they develop their rules. But if there are any loopholes that need to get closed through these regulations, we're looking to do that. And I think the great thing is a lot of the people that we've worked with that are advocates for this measure and this new program, they want to see regulation so they know that they're operating in an area that is clear, and give them that structure that they're looking for to make it legitimate."

The Department of Regulatory Agencies, tasked with the bulk of regulatory work with psilocybin facilitators and medical psychedelics rules, recently released its first draft of suggested regulations. The Department of Revenue, responsible for overseeing Colorado's cannabis industry, created a new Natural Medicine Division to oversee commercial production and sales of psychedelics, as well.

"It's really great that they're going to be licensing the facilitators," Duplechian says. "As patients are looking for access to this treatment, that can make them feel confident that the people they're working with are licensed and regulated."

While the Colorado cannabis boom and natural medicine rollout have a lot of similarities, Duplechian notes that there are a number of things different this time around.

"When the Office of Marijuana Policy was created in 2014, some of the regulations had already been set by Denver City Council," she says. "Some were based on medical marijuana that had been in operation for a couple of years; this [natural medicine] is brand-new. So there's a difference in the starting point. And then the business models themselves are a little bit different. I think the key piece that's different here is this model does not allow for sales for off-site consumption. And so you won't see things like marijuana dispensaries; you won't see those types of storefronts you see with marijuana. What's allowed under this model is treatment at healing centers where the psilocybin can be administered."

Psilocybin is the main, and only, focus right now, but Duplechian invites unlicensed operators to take part in the NMWG meetings so they can learn how to get licensed and provide feedback about what they think would work best.

"If there's a person out there who's interested in pursuing this business model, or this treatment model, I would encourage them to see if they want to apply to be on the work group or participate in the work group in some way, because they have a vision," Duplechian says. "They have an idea of what they want to see from this. And we want to make sure that the regulations align with that."

The NMWG is currently scheduled to meet on March 28, April 25, May 23 and June 27. The deadline for people to apply is March 13 at 5 p.m. 
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