Kevin Matthews Wants to Decriminalize Mushrooms Across Colorado

Kevin Matthews is ready to cultivate statewide mushroom decriminalization.
Kevin Matthews is ready to cultivate statewide mushroom decriminalization. Anthony Camera
Twenty months after Denver voters approved decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms, the leader of that surprisingly successful campaign has set his sights on statewide decriminalization.

"If we’re working toward decriminalizing psilocybin and creating a regulatory model in the state of Colorado, it’s so much more effective to get it done in the legislature than to spend $5 million to $8 million on a ballot initiative and a campaign," says Kevin Matthews, the former head of Decriminalize Denver who recently registered as a Colorado lobbyist.

Matthews plans to lobby lawmakers in order to build enough support to pass a Colorado decriminalization bill by 2022, if not sooner. "If we can introduce a bill this session, then we certainly want to do that," explains Matthews, an Arvada resident and former West Point cadet. But he understands that lawmakers might not be ready for such a proposal in 2021 and, if that's the case, he says he'll focus on "building out the foundation this year, using this as an educational year, and getting in front of lawmakers."

If he succeeds in getting such a proposal through the legislature, would Governor Jared Polis sign it? "The governor has not seen such a bill, and so we cannot comment one way or the other," says Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for the governor.

But Matthews has a backup plan in any case: If he can't get lawmakers to pass the bill, he and other advocates of psychedelic mushroom decriminalization will launch that costly campaign to put the proposal on the Colorado ballot during the mid-term elections in November 2022.

Although Denver made history in May 2019 by becoming the first American city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, other locales quickly followed suit. The city councils of Oakland and Santa Cruz in California, as well as Ann Arbor, Michigan, all decriminalized entheogens — naturally occurring psychedelics such as mushrooms and peyote. This past November, residents of Washington, D.C., voted in favor of decriminalizing entheogens. Oregon voters also approved ballot measures related to regulating psychedelics and decriminalizing drugs.

In Colorado, advocates in Boulder and Colorado Springs have already started talking with elected officials about decriminalization efforts.

Following his success in Denver, Matthews formed the nonprofit Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education, working on various efforts around the country. After serving as SPORE's executive director for over eighteen months, Matthews is now handing over the reins to a new executive director so that he can focus full-time on lobbying. "My passion, and where I really shine, is the advocacy and policy side," he explains, "and how are we making contact with folks to change laws."

Matthews secured seed funding from Dr. Bronner's, an organic soap company that has a history of supporting psilocybin-related advocacy, to get his Helix Consulting Group off the ground. Now he hopes to be hired by paying clients for his lobbying efforts, and also to garner financial support from individual donations.

"To me, it’s important that I’m as representative of the needs and desires of the grassroots community as possible," Matthews says, adding that he wants Helix to serve "as a bridge for the needs and wants of the psychedelic constituency, as it exists in Denver and Colorado, to our lawmakers."

Matthews will also be doing some of the follow-up required for Denver's decriminalization effort, working with law enforcement officials on the city's Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel to collect data for Denver City Council on the effects of the ordinance's passage. "With the arrest data, the hospital visit data, that’s trending very much toward no health or safety risks," he says.

That data will be useful in pushing for a statewide decriminalization bill, he suggests. In the meantime, he was at the Capitol during the first days of the legislative session before it took a break until mid-February, to "plant the spore there and get the lay of the land."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.