Colorado Voters approved psilocybin mushrooms in 2022. Now the state is setting up how they’ll be regulated

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Psychedelic mushrooms in the Colorado home of a grower, June 2, 2023.

Colorado is now one of the first states to have its own Division of Natural Medicine that will, in about a year, issue licenses to spaces where psilocybin will be legally consumed.   

A small team, which is about to grow, has been tasked with figuring out the specifics of launching the division. There’s been a call-out for a new hire for a few months. Once the position is filled, the division will gain some independence from its big sister in cannabis enforcement, with its own dedicated staffer. 

“We're in the process of hiring our first full-time policy advisor position for natural medicine,” said Dominique Mendiola, senior director of both the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division and the new Natural Medicine division. “That's going to be our very first completely full-time position within the natural medicine division.” 

Building this division became necessary once SB23-290 became a state law in May 2023. Creating a regulatory framework for people to receive natural medicine in healing centers, the law stems from Colorado voters approving Proposition 122 in November 2022.

The ballot measure directed Gov. Polis to appoint members to a Natural Medicine Advisory Board, and to develop an infrastructure for the Natural Medicine Health Act, based on recommendations from the advisory board.

Shannon Gray, communications supervisor for the division sent an email with a link to the job description: “This position will serve as a senior authority over the statewide implementation of SB23-290 related to licensing and regulating the cultivation, manufacture, dispensation, transportation, and testing of natural medicines, including licensing individuals working in these businesses and licensing healing centers.”

The salary range is between $87,000 and $113,000, according to Gray.

The division received $530,000 in general funding for fiscal year 2023-2024 to help it get on its feet until it’s sustainable from the money it will generate from the licensing fees. Although the exact cost of a license has not been determined, the division is considering $2,000 annually per facility.

“Facilitators,” as Mendiola called them, who will serve customers, will also need a division-issued license, for as much as $3,000 per person. A license to provide counseling or social work is not obligatory, she said.

To find out what concerns people around the state had about the new natural medicine regulation, the team – a handful of people on loan from the cannabis enforcement division – held virtual listening sessions. Open to interested parties via Zoom link, near-weekly sessions started in September and ran for a few months, with topics such as first and multi-responder training, public education campaigning, and cultivating practices. They learned, for example, that in rural communities with limited internet access, classified ads and radio advertising would be better promotion strategies than hoping people learn about the new division online.

Courtesy photos
Dominique Mendiola, left, and Allison Robinette.

Now that the law exists, the division will oversee licensing at healing centers, where natural medicine could be administered to individuals 21 and older. The division will also keep an eye on the licensing and regulation of the cultivation and manufacture of medicines and testing facilities. Its other tasks include data collection, promotion, and training.

“That includes data collection around law enforcement incidents, adverse health events, consumer protection claims, things like that,” Mendiola said. “We're also going to be responsible for developing public education materials as well as training materials for first responders, like law enforcement or EMS.”

"This year when the session ended ... we immediately began that implementation work,” which also involved creating a new website for the division, she said.

Oregon is the only other state known to have a similar office, but Colorado’s will regulate more substances. Oregon’s program focuses on psilocybin only, whereas Colorado’s could also include psilocin, another magic mushroom ingredient, as well as Ibogaine, mescaline, and dimethyltryptamine (DMT), all other plant-based and/or naturally occurring psychoactive substances, she said.

The division expects to start issuing licenses in December 2024.

Unlike dispensaries, where people can drop in to purchase cannabis to take with them, at healing centers, people will receive the natural medicines to consume on-site. Whether an appointment will be required is still under consideration, Mendiola said. 

It will probably be another year before anyone will be using psilocybin or other substances in a healing center, according to Allison Robinette, director of policy and regulatory affairs for both the Natural Medicine and Marijuana Enforcement Divisions.

“Someone who was looking for that experience in a regulated space will wait essentially until 2025 – once we have licenses issued and licensees are operating,” Robinette said.