On Monday, September 10, members of Denver for Psilocybin submitted two initiatives to be considered for the May 2019 ballot that would essentially allow residents to consume psychedelic mushrooms without facing legal trouble.
The initiatives share some key similarities. Both would make enforcing laws that prohibit psychedelic mushrooms a low priority for law enforcement agencies. They would also "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psychoactive mushrooms." Neither initiative allows for the legal sale of psychedelic mushrooms, and both call for the creation of a special Denver City Council committee dedicated to the famous fungi, similar to the one that already exists for marijuana. The initiatives still conflict with federal drug laws, much like the amendment that legalized recreational marijuana in Denver,
The group is submitting two initiatives in case one doesn't pass, and the top priority is the “Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative," according to Kevin Matthews, campaign director for Denver for Psilocybin, which would decriminalize "personal possession, use and propagation" of psychedelic mushrooms. It does not stipulate a limit for the amount of psychedelic mushrooms someone can possess, consume or grow and would be written into Chapter 28 of the Denver Municipal Code, which pertains to human rights.
"It’s a natural right. It’s a human right. This one is our Hail Mary victory shot," Matthews says.
But the sticking point for the Denver Elections Division, which must approve the initiative before it makes the ballot, may be parts of its language. "Propagation," or growth, of psychedelic mushrooms might be one step too far to get on the ballot.
"It’s more a matter of public opinion. Are people ready to accept that people are already propagating?" Matthews asks.
The backup plan is the “Denver Psychoactive Mushroom Enforcement Deprioritization Initiative," which only covers consumption and possession, not growth. It would limit possession to two ounces and would be written into Chapter 38 of the Denver Municipal Code, which is where articles about marijuana reside. If the city doesn't accept the primary initiative but certifies the second, Matthews says, he and his team will move forward with the latter. If the primary initiative only needs minor tweaks and can be resubmitted, or if both are accepted, the group will back the primary one for the ballot.
The federal government classifies psilocybin, the psychedelic compound that occurs naturally in certain mushrooms, as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no "accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," according to the Drug Enforcement Administration website. But a 2016 study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that "psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer." The Right to Try Act, passed in Colorado in 2014, allows doctors to direct terminally ill patients to psilocybin-based treatments after all other treatment options have been exhausted.
Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration just approved a clinical trial to use psilocybin to treat patients experiencing treatment-resistant depression. Clinical trials involving Schedule I drugs, including psilocybin, require special licenses before being allowed to move forward.
Psilocybin comes in different forms, including capsules filled with ground-up psychedelic mushrooms, and the more traditional dried mushroom. The Denver initiatives don't specify which form of the drug can be used.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Denver City Council has ten business days after the initiatives were submitted to schedule a comment and review hearing led by the executive director of the council, Leon Mason, and Assistant City Attorney Troy Bratton. The formal review of the language will be open to the public, but there will be no opportunity for public comment. Mason and Bratton will ask organizers questions about the ballot's wording and try to clarify their intent.
If Mason and Bratton give the okay, the ballot initiatives will be submitted to the Denver Elections Division, which has three days to review and either accept or deny them. Two attempts earlier this year to get similar initiatives on the November ballot failed after they were rejected by the Elections Division. The first initiative was rejected because of a technicality in the language. The second initiative was rejected because it went too far in trying to exempt Denver citizens from state and federal drug laws.
If the Elections Division approves the initiatives, Denver for Psilocybin has until January 7 to gather approximately 5,000 signatures to get on the May 2019 ballot. A team of volunteer canvassers is on standby to start gathering, Matthews says.
"I am extremely optimistic. I think we’re gonna win. I think we’re going to pass this thing," he says. Even if voters don't side with the group, "simply getting on the ballot will be a victory."