Election

Denver Passes Historic Psychedelic Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative

Even as early returns looked bleak, I-301 proponents stayed optimistic at their watch party.
Even as early returns looked bleak, I-301 proponents stayed optimistic at their watch party. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Denver just made history.

Today, May 8, the city became the first in the country to decriminalize psilocybin. Unofficial election results show a slight majority of voters approved I-301, which decriminalizes consumption, possession and growth of psychedelic mushrooms. The final returns, which will remain unofficial until certification next week, show that 50.56 percent of voters, or 89,320 people, approved the initiative.

It's a shocking comeback. When results rolled in at 7 p.m. on election day, May 7, the initiative had only garnered 45.43 percent of votes, a painful surprise to people at I-301's watch party who'd been optimistic about the measure's chances. Local and national media outlets viewed the margin as insurmountable and declared the initiative dead.

But as the evening wore on, updated results showed the initiative gaining traction.


At 1 a.m. May 8, I-301 was still inching toward victory, with results showing the initiative had 48.33 percent of the vote. Supporters were again hopeful; the momentum was on their side, especially considering that the Denver Elections Division still had tens of thousands of votes to count.

Why did it take so long for the supporters to weigh in? Proponents speculated that stoner types, highly likely to vote yes, probably submitted their ballots at the last minute.

Since 1970, the federal government has classified psilocybin, the active ingredient in these mushrooms, as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has high potential for abuse and no known medical use.

Of the 9,267 drug cases filed in Denver between 2016 and 2018, only eleven involved psilocybin, and only three led to charges for possession with intent to manufacture or distribute. Those numbers are minuscule compared to the 152 cases filed for LSD and 3,534 for cocaine over the same period. And between 2016 and 2018, the Denver Police Department arrested just over fifty people per year for psilocybin-related offenses.


Both Mayor Michael Hancock and his opponent in the mayoral runoff, Jamie Giellis, had opposed the initiative.

The language of I-301 calls for establishing a panel comprising city officials, members of the I-301 campaign and other stakeholders that will look at the effects of decriminilization. 
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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.