Interviews

What Should Colorado Expect From Psychedelics? We Asked an Expert

Joshua Kappel (left) and Kevin Matthews of Natural Medicine Colorado celebrate on November election night.
Joshua Kappel (left) and Kevin Matthews of Natural Medicine Colorado celebrate on November election night. Courtesy of Kevin Matthews
If you ask average Coloradans about the state's recent passage of laws around psychedelics, they'll probably have more questions than answers. Can I buy mushrooms at a store? What psychedelics are no longer illegal? What will a psychedelic therapy center look like?

Since many of these questions are similar to what we heard during Colorado's journey to recreational cannabis legalization, we consulted an expert in both. Joshua Kappel is a founding member of Vicente Sederberg, a Denver-based law firm that specializes in cannabis policy. After working on the 2012 campaign for statewide cannabis legalization, Kappel eventually moved toward psychedelic reform. He was an author of Denver's 2019 initiative to decriminalize psilocybin and co-wrote Proposition 122, the statewide measure passed in November that decriminalized the use of psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline, DMT and ibogaine, and laid the groundwork for their regulation.

We caught up with Kappel to learn more about the basics of Prop 122 and what Colorado should expect from this upcoming trip.

Westword: There have been a lot of comparisons from now back to the early days of medical marijuana, when dispensaries started popping up. Do you see any parallels?

Joshua Kappel: I look at it less as a comparison to 2008 and 2009, because that's when we had all of these gray-market business pop up under the cannabis caregiver model. To me, the comparison is more to January 2012, after we passed adult-use cannabis. We were curious as to how the political establishment was going to react to the will of the people. Similar to Amendment 64, Proposition 122 creates a regulated model for the non-medically supervised use of natural medicines, and it also decriminalizes a lot of natural medicines.

What will the regulated side of psilocybin use look like?

This model was set up for folks, to start with, to go to a supervised psilocybin or psilocin experience. This experience can take many forms: personal growth, spirituality, or it could be psychedelic-assisted therapy; there's a very therapeutic side to this, too. There's nothing that prohibits medical professions from being involved with the regulated healing-center model.

It's also important to know some of the guardrails around personal use. There's a prohibition on commercial activity related to giving away psychedelic products, so folks setting up businesses around the personal-use section could face potential legal consequences. There's a limitation on ingesting natural medicines in public places, such as parks. You can possess them there, but you can't ingest them there. Another big piece here is that this is all still illegal under federal law, so people who want to take or eat mushrooms in our national forests or on BLM land, there's a risk of federal tickets or criminal offenses from a park ranger.

How liberal can the interpretation be with healing centers? Will we be seeing them in places like concert parking lots?

[Laughs.] No, I don't think we'll see healing centers in a concert parking lot, but I do think we'll see a lot of retreat centers pop up, where people go for a wellness experience. Something like a multi-day wellness retreat where one of those days includes psilocybin. I think you'll see that outdoor retreat model and an in-office clinical model that pops up, as well.

Colorado has been early to adopt cannabis and psychedelics compared to the rest of the country. What is it about this state that is so willing to try out these alternative forms of medicine and recreational substances?

It's pretty clear that people in Colorado have been using mushrooms of their own accord for decades, and there haven't been any significant issues coming from it. I think mushrooms make up less than 1 percent of all drug arrests, so it's not that big of a deal at the end of the day. A lot of people use them for personal growth and healing, and some in a recreational sense. We also have microdosing now. It's been an important tool for people to engage in their own healing.

Prop 122 spells out that the state Department of Regulatory Agencies will be responsible for psychedelic regulation, but we've heard rumblings of cannabis bodies like the Marijuana Enforcement Division or Department of Revenue getting involved down the line. Do you see cannabis and psychedelic regulations intertwining down the road?

They might. The regulatory agency that was chosen in Prop 122 was DORA, because DORA regulates other medical professionals. The big difference between the Natural Medicine Health Act and our cannabis laws is the licensed facilitator. We're creating a new profession in Colorado: a psychedelics facilitator. The details of it are yet to be created, but ultimately, the facilitators will be the linchpin of natural psychedelic usage in Colorado.

There is no retail sales permit in Prop 122. There's no dispensary model, there's no retail model and there's no pharmacy model. Everyone who uses psilocybin on regulated terms will have to do so with a supervisor. So my guess is that there will be more of a demand for facilitators than suppliers off the bat.

What will legal home cultivation of psychedelics look like in Colorado?

Under the model, people over 21 can cultivate, possess and share natural psychedelic medicine. It's important to note that there are five different medicines under that model: psilocybin, psilocin, mescaline that is not from peyote, DMT and ibogaine. A lot of the plants that contain mescaline and DMT have been legal to grow forever. You can buy San Pedro cactus at Home Depot, and it contains mescaline. On the cultivation side, this isn't that big of a deal. The big change is that it has been illegal to grow those mushrooms, and now it's no longer a crime.

Is there a preferred consumption method for psilocybin? Does it depend on the intended use?

Now that it's no longer a crime, we'll be able to see different methods that work for different people. Some people might prefer wet mushrooms, some people might prefer dry mushrooms, or chocolates, or psilocybin in pill form for more exact microdosing. I think we'll see a lot of different methods of ingestion come about and really meet people where they are.

Is mushroom extraction a thing? Will we be seeing concentrated forms of psilocybin?

People are looking at different extraction methods around psilocybin. I don't believe they have really nailed down the science of it yet, but I believe that through the regulated model, we'll be able to dial in extraction and manufacturing processes, and provide more safety and testing abilities. Previously, this has all been an underground market.

When cannabis was legalized in 2012, industrial hemp wasn't really talked about, yet it has ended up playing a big role in the economy. Do you see anything like that with Prop 122? A result or consequence that people aren't talking about now but could develop in the future?

I think you'll see more people take interest in growing cacti, grasses or plants that contain mescaline or DMT. I think a lot of the work from people diving into psychedelic-assisted therapy will show a lot of different benefits, too, whether it's addiction, anxiety or personal growth and self-development. I think we'll see a lot of positive experiences from this, and a whole host of conditions being treated in ways we may not be expecting right now.
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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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