It didn’t happen overnight, but Colorado’s emergence as a worldwide hub of progressive drug policy still feels somewhat sudden – and that reputation would only be emboldened via Tuesday’s vote in Denver County to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, a.k.a. “magic mushrooms.”
It’s no joke. The passage of Initiated Ordinance 301 would make the personal cultivation, possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms for those 21 and older the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver. The passage of 301 would not legalize the sale of these psychedelic mushrooms, but it would establish a “policy review panel” to report on the effects.
Decriminalize Denver, the primary organizers behind the initiative, argue that mushrooms should not be a crime – especially considering their potential medical applications and low risk, non-addictive profile. As they write in their campaign’s marketing materials, “No one should go to jail, lose their children, lose their job, and lose their citizen’s rights for using a mushroom. One arrest is too many for something with such low and manageable risks for most people, relative to its potential benefits.”
And they’re absolutely right.
A “yes” vote on 301 will open opportunities for psychedelic therapies, treatments and research that are currently deemed criminal. And that construct of criminalizing drugs – instead of treating them like the public health issues they are — is a glaring wrong that is primed to be corrected, a process that has already started with the many marijuana legalization initiatives sprouting up throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and elsewhere.
Medical experts and civil-rights groups such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the American Civil Liberties Union and others have long recommended the decriminalization of all drugs.
And while we can talk about Portugal’s first-of-its-kind drug decriminalization “experiment” – which began in 2001 and led to “dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates,” according to The Guardian — I’ll remain focused on the compelling reasons Denver residents should vote to decriminalize psilocybin.
A growing body of research suggests psilocybin has game-changing medical applications. Johns Hopkins University researchers last year recommended that psilocybin be reclassified for medical use in a landmark analysis published in medical journal Neuropharmacology, “potentially paving the way for the psychedelic drug to one day treat depression and anxiety and help people stop smoking,” The New York Times recently reported.
There are powerful anecdotes positioning psilocybin as a meaningful antidepressant, and now multiple academic studies on terminally ill patients show persuasive findings on that potential treatment: “Up to 80 percent of the patients reported feeling less depressed, less anxious and more at ease with the prospect of dying – regardless of whether their diagnosis improved,” wrote Discover magazine. “In addition, they said that some measure of meaning had returned to their lives and they felt more optimistic. The effects persisted for at least seven weeks after taking the drug, and up to six months for some of the participants.”
Next up on this front: A London-based life sciences company has approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a clinical trial in psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression.
Respected author Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”) is one of psychedelic medicine’s most passionate supporters, and he’s hardly alone, as outlined in his latest book, “How to Change Your Mind.” Pollan recently told Vox about the high-level researchers he interviewed for the book: “They’re telling me that this looks to them like a revolutionary development in mental health care. I did my best to preserve my journalistic skepticism, but it’s hard when you see how excited these researchers are.
“They believe they’re on the verge of something really important.”
The 2018 Johns Hopkins analysis recommended that psilocybin be rescheduled to Schedule IV in the Controlled Substances Act – where it currently resides as a Schedule I substance, alongside another wrongfully maligned psychoactive plant: marijuana.
Even though so much of the modern cannabis conversation is currently focused on Canada and California, let’s not forget Colorado’s essential role in marijuana policy, as the first legal recreational pot sales in the modern world happened here on Jan. 1, 2014.
Will history repeat itself on Tuesday with Denver becoming one of the first American municipalities to reject the federal government’s wrongful classification of psilocybin? I sure hope so.
American drug policy is broken. And while sometimes it’s the states standing up against the feds in support of a more just and compassionate drug policy, other times it’s the cities. Denver has the chance to again stand out as that reasoned voice that nudges the worldwide drug policy conversation ever-so-slightly in the right direction.
Ricardo Baca is the founder and CEO of the communications firm Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency. He is a former Denver Post employee.