What Ever Happened to Denver's Magic Mushroom Initiative?

Nearly three months ago, a group of Denverites made a big splash with their campaign to decriminalize magic mushrooms, chanting "free the spores" and holding up signs that read, "I am a psilocybin patient," outside of the Denver City and County Building.

They vowed to turn Denver into a safe space for psychedelics users and, they said, private research. After all, Denver has a history of progressive drug policies; it decriminalized possession of cannabis in 2005, years before statewide recreational legalization. Why should ’shrooms, which research shows is the safest recreational drug and offers promising results for sufferers of severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, be treated any differently than weed? Not to mention that psilocybin ranks near the bottom for drug-related seizures by law enforcement, with 530 cases reported in Colorado and twelve other western states in the first half of 2017, according to a federal report.

But the campaign Denver for Psilocybin — backed by members of the cannabis community such as weed doctor and neuroscientist Michele Ross and Straight Hemp CEO Devin Alvarez — has faced hurdles in its bid for the ballot since making its bold announcement in early March. It's still struggling to get its petition language approved and has been denied twice by the city, most recently on May 7. With little time left to gather signatures before the August deadline, there's a chance that Denver residents may not see the initiative this November.

"Holy smokes, it's been a process," says Kevin Matthews, Denver for Psilocybin campaign director and spokesman, adding that although it's taken a long time to sort out the legal details, "I think we would rather get our language as effective as possible than try and push this thing through specifically because it's something that’s potentially a big deal. ... We want to have all of our ducks in a row.”

Denver for Psilocybin is working out its ballot language to decriminalize magic mushrooms without encroaching on federal and state law, which ultimately preempt any local ordinances. Its two previous attempts were shot down because the group tried to reduce the penalties of federal and state enforcement or exempt residents from state law for use, possession and cultivation of magic mushrooms on private property only. Now the campaign is betting on its third draft petition to make the cut, which it hopes to introduce in mid-June.

"People shouldn't go to jail for being in possession. There's no excuse for that, especially given the data,” Matthews says. "There's a big stigma with psilocybin and psychedelics in general, and it's probably going to take time to influence the hearts and minds of individuals. [The delays] are not a disappointment. We're in this for the long game.”

Even if Denver for Psilocybin has its petition approved on the third attempt, it would be on a huge time crunch to turn in the requisite 4,726 valid signatures in a little more than a month. (This election cycle has taught a valuable lesson to petitioners: Gather plenty of signatures, because the validation process is brutal.)

Matthews says the campaign has plenty of support and isn't worried about gathering enough signatures. The hard part will be educating voters so the proposal has a chance at the ballot. But if the group runs out of time to make the November ballot, Matthews says Denver will definitely see magic mushrooms on the ballot next May.

"We're confident we'll get the signatures, whether it's November or for May," Matthews says. "This is the right time to start a national conversation around this. Regardless of whether or not we're successful, simply being on the ballot will start a national conversation.”

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