If it passes, the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative would make personal use, possession and propagation of psilocybin mushrooms for adults 21 and over the "city's lowest law-enforcement priority." It would also "prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties" for personal use, possession and growth. It would also establish the "psiloycbin mushroom policy review panel to assess and report on the effects of the ordinance," which would be similar to an already-existing panel for marijuana and would include eleven members, two of whom would hail from Denver City Council.
"This is a landmark moment for Denver, for Colorado, and for the country. We have an opportunity here to make some real impact and change in people’s lives," says Kevin Matthews, campaign director for Denver for Psilocybin.
The group first announced its plans to push a psilocybin initiative back in March; it was aiming to get the measure on the municipal ballot next month. But the group's initial attempts were unsuccessful, partly because of technicalities in the proposal language and also because they may have gone too far in trying to exempt Denver citizens from state and federal drug laws, according to Matthews.
Advocates patched up those two issues for the latest initiative. Now it will be up to Denver voters to decide if they want to decriminalize psilocybin, as they did with marijuana in 2005.
After the September 10 submission of the initiative for review, organizers received certification from the city to submit their initiative to the Denver Elections Division, which they did on October 2. On October 5, they got the go-ahead to begin signature-gathering.
Signature-gatherers will have forms ready for prospective signers explaining the medical benefits and offering clinical information about psilocybin. The Denver initiative focuses on psilocybin mushrooms, which it defines as "fungal matter containing psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, or nor-baeocystin."
The federal government currently 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 scientific opinion about psilocybin is not so clear-cut.
In fact, the feds recently 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 they are allowed to move forward.
Currently, the only way to legally consume psilocybin in Colorado is through the Right to Try Bill, which allows doctors to prescribe psilocybin-based treatments for terminally ill patients after all other treatment options have been exhausted. 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 initiative cites links between experience with psilocybin and decreased risk of opioid abuse. It also cites the Journal of Psychopharmacology to show the links between psilocybin use and a range of other societal benefits, such as lower crime rates and reduced psychological stress.
With a major hurdle finally cleared, Matthews and Denver for Psilocybin believe the proposal will get on the ballot. "We just needed to get approved," he says. "I'm very optimistic we’re going to get the signatures."