Get ready for another drug debate.
Denver voters will decide this year whether to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. Organizers collected more than 5,000 valid signatures, enough to put the initiative on the municipal ballot this May.
“I think it’s going to be pretty big,” said Kevin Matthews, campaign director for Decriminalize Denver. “There are a lot of people throughout our country that want to see the drug policy laws change around psychedelics and psilocybin in particular.”
He said the change “would not increase access at all.”
The measure would not allow people to buy or sell “magic” mushrooms, which contain the drug psilocybin. In fact, they would remain illegal under local, state and federal law.
But it would make possession of the fungus the “lowest law-enforcement priority” for Denver police, and it would prohibit the city from spending public money to impose related criminal penalties. It would only apply to people over 21 years old.
“Denver is quickly becoming the illicit drug capitol of the world,” Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute, a conservative think tank at Colorado Christian University. “High potency pot, proposed needle injection sites, and now an effort to decriminalize mushrooms. … As a state, we should be encouraging a healthy lifestyle with less drug use, not more.”
Supporters of decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms point to studies of their safety and say they can reduce stress and opioid use, among other arguments.
“There’s a lot of support for this, and now that we’re on the ballot and this is official, we have a real chance here to have this national conversation,” Matthews said.
But other bids to decriminalize mushrooms have fallen short. In Oregon, activists plan to seek a 2020 statewide ballot measure that would allow the use of mushrooms for people with medical needs.
Decriminalization is far from legalization, but it can be an early step. Denver voters removed local penalties on marijuana in 2005, seven years before the vote for full recreational legalization, and later made it the city’s lowest priority.
However, the city continued to enforce laws on marijuana, according to Mason Tvert, who worked on the marijuana decriminalization campaign.
“Ultimately, the city continued to enforce state law until they changed state law. Under then-Mayor John Hickenlooper, the city opted to do that,” he said. But he believes the measures set the stage for marijuana legalization.
“It was all done strategically to build support for cannabis,” he said.
Decriminalize Denver reported raising about $5,900 for the psilocybin campaign.
No organization has yet reported raising money to oppose the measure.
Mayor Michael Hancock’s office said he “will not be supporting this ballot measure.”