Public officials sign on to effort opposing decriminalization of psilocybin

Peter Dejong/AP
Magic mushrooms are seen in a grow room at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands on this Aug. 3, 2007 file photo.

A bipartisan group of elected officials — including mayors, state lawmakers and Colorado’s attorney general — are urging voters to reject a measure to decriminalize psilocybin and some other plant-based psychedelics.

“In a medically supervised setting, the use of psilocybin (mushrooms) for some mental health issues, shows early promise,” reads the letter signed by thirty elected officials. “However, this ballot measure is not based on science and will prematurely unleash a new commercial industry, driven by out-of-state funders that are seeking to capitalize on increasing recreational drug use in Colorado.” 

Proposition 122 would allow for the establishment of licensed “healing centers” where people could pay to consume psychedelic mushrooms in a guided setting. It would also allow people to grow, gift and use mushrooms. It would not allow for the sale of psychedelics for off-premises consumption.

The letter raises multiple objections, including that Proposition 122 would not allow local governments to opt out of allowing healing centers within their boundaries, unlike laws around recreational marijuana. It also notes the penalty for helping anyone under age — 21 years old or younger — acquire psychedelics is capped at a $250 fine and “other applicable penalties.” 

Advocates for Proposition 122 argue the evidence for the psychological benefits of psilocybin is strong enough — and the FDA approval process is slow enough — that it justifies decriminalizing the compound. They also point to Denver’s own experience decriminalizing mushrooms in 2019 as evidence the state is ready for this step.

Psilocybin has been designated a “breakthrough therapy” by the FDA based on preliminary clinical evidence showing it may be better than current treatments for certain conditions, but it hasn’t been approved for use. Earlier this year, the American Psychiatric Association stated that, outside of approved studies, there is “currently inadequate scientific evidence for endorsing the use of psychedelics to treat any psychiatric disorder.” 

One of the leaders of Natural Medicine Colorado, the group backing the initiative, dismissed the letter as “fear mongering.”

“We are in a mental health crisis in this country, and Proposition 122 provides access to alternative treatments for those who need it in a safe and responsible manner under the supervision of a licensed professional,” wrote Josh Kappel in a statement. Kappel is also a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg, a law firm specializing in cannabis and psychedelics issues.

The campaign also pointed out that the initiative allows local governments to set regulations for healing centers within their limits.

Campaigns ramp up on both sides

Natural Medicine Colorado has spent nearly four million dollars getting Proposition 122 on the ballot and campaigning for it. The group's primary funders include a PAC supported by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap and the Center for Voter Information, a political non-profit aligned with Democrats.

Opposition to Proposition 122 has only taken off in recent weeks. The one issue committee set up to oppose it, Protect Colorado’s Kids, registered with the state on September 9th. On October 20th, the group disclosed two major purchases for digital ads and text messages at $25,000 each.

The group is targeting Denver, Douglas, Jefferson and Arapahoe Counties and said it’s reached about 200,000 voters directly so far.

“We’re asking Colorado voters to listen to the scientists,” said Luke Niforatos, who heads Protect Colorado Kids. “The state of the medical evidence right now is, this is not supported.”

The opposition letter, organized by the group Blue Rising Together, was signed by the mayors of Denver, Aurora, Colorado Springs and several smaller communities, as well as former governor Bill Owens, eight Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. On the law enforcement side, Attorney General Phil Weiser signed, as did four current district attorneys and three former U.S. Attorneys.

While the organized opposition to Proposition 122 has come from groups that are opposed to  loosening drug laws in general, the measure has also been criticized by some within the psychedelic movement. Grassroots groups have raised concerns the initiative moves too quickly toward widespread legal access and could result in a few companies dominating the provision of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Editor's Note: This story originally stated incorrectly that ScottsMiracle-Gro is a supporter of Natural Medicine Colorado through the New Approach PAC. A staffer with New Approach clarified that while the company donates to the PAC, none of its money has been used for Proposition 122.