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Why Everyone Cares So Much About Colorado’s Psilocybin Bill

It represents a larger nationwide debate over psychedelic reform—here’s what you need to know

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DoubleBlind Mag

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Updated October 31, 2022

DoubleBlind Mag is devoted to fair, rigorous reporting by leading experts and journalists in the field of psychedelics. Read more about our editorial process and fact-checking here.

Coloradans once again have the opportunity to make psychedelic history. The Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA), a proposed ballot measure which would legalize facilitated psilocybin sessions in the state, will be on the ballot next month. The measure has added fuel to an already heated debate about the best way for psychedelic reform to unfold in Colorado and the US, more broadly. Its supporters say that when making psychedelics available on a state level it is important for these medicines to be available in a supportive, regulated setting. Opponents, who largely campaign for decriminalization without possession limits, say the bill was crafted by out-of-state interests who are not prioritizing accessibility or the needs and wants of local stakeholders.

The initiative, which would legalize facilitated psilocybin sessions and also open the door for sessions with other psychedelics in 2026, follows in the footsteps of Oregon’s measure 109, which voters passed at the ballot box in November of 2020—making it the first US state to regulate psilocybin sessions for adults. Beginning in June 2026, the state could expand the measure to include facilitated sessions with DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline (not derived from peyote). The measure also decriminalizes personal use and possession of these substances, although opponents say that the language around decriminalization in the bill is too vague. 

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The current iteration of the NMHA defines personal use as “the amount a person may cultivate or possess of natural medicine necessary to share natural medicines with other persons.” Opponents say the word “necessary” is not true decriminalization, which places no limits on possession, and instead leaves the criminal justice system responsible for deeming what “necessary” means. 

The NMHA was put forth by New Approach, a political action group funded by Colorado donors as well as Dr. Bronner’s and philanthropists, the Van Ameringen Foundation, among others. Almost $2.8 million was raised and most was spent on signature gathering to get the bill on the ballot in Colorado. The measure would regulate psilocybin sessions and provide treatments without any medical diagnosis requirement. It would also sanction home cultivation and the sharing of medicines, but prohibit private sales. In addition to criticism over vague equity clauses and possession limits, opponents say the measure “puts commercialization over community.”

Read: Where Are Magic Mushrooms Legal?

For his part, David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s, feels there needs to be a regulatory framework, plus political pragmatism, when working on this sort of state-level reform. “You can’t just have decriminalized mega-operations outside of any regulatory framework at a state level,” Bronner tells DoubleBlind. “We need a regulated access model for most people to be comfortable accessing the medicines. As we show good outcomes and gather data, we also hope and expect Medicare will eventually cover some substantial amount of it.”

Addressing criticism on cultivation limits, he adds: “It’s basically allowing for as much as you can grow so long as you just represent in the right kind of way. There’s no sneaky corporate agenda: the bills being put forward really will decriminalize the medicines in a way that allows for community healing to flourish. There’s also a cap of five service centers that any one entity can have, to prevent a huge corporate takeover and encourage the flourishing of locally-owned and operated clinics.”

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Brad Bartlett, a Colorado attorney who specializes in psychedelics law and does not work with either the NMHA or its opponents, says there is a lot in the measure that is left to be determined by an advisory committee, which would be appointed by the governor. For example, he says, the measure states that an “individual” can’t have a “financial interest” in more than five service centers, but it doesn’t say that a corporation can’t and it doesn’t define what “individual” means. Additionally, he says, the limits on possession are “ambiguous” and “may ultimately need to be cleaned up by the state legislature,” if the measure passes. “I think the time is right for this. Is the measure perfect? While it certainly has some flaws, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” says Bartlett. “It generated some controversy for a number of different reasons with a number of different communities. The measure tries to do a lot of different things and has a long reach with lots of big implications and moving parts. That’s bound to create misunderstanding.”

Carlos Plazola, co-founder of Decriminalize Nature, a group that began in Oakland after successfully passing a resolution there to make the possession of natural psychedelics the lowest law enforcement priority, opposes the measure. “Without government or corporate intervention, let us heal however we want to either as individuals or as a community,” Plazola tells DoubleBlind. “Legalization without total decriminalization will lead to increased incarceration by creating pressures to push for scarcity.” 

Read: Entheogenic Plants & Fungi: The Campaign to Decriminalize Naturally Occurring Psychedelics

Melanie Rodgers, organizer of Initiative 61, an opposing bill that did not make it on the ballot, told local media, “When we think of Indigenous cultures and the people that have been using this medicine for so long, healing happens in community. You need your community after these experiences, you need it for education, for harm reduction. So we’re here to hold that space and keep it at the forefront.”

On October 18, Native Coalition Against The Colorado Medicine Health Act released a statement saying they oppose the bill “because it stands to threaten, exploit and commercialize Indigenous peoples and spiritual traditions. It ignores critical issues pertaining to stewardship, conservation, intellectual property and fair trade practices.”

Therapeutic and medical models are more accessible to the wealthy in the US, says Plazola. “What we’re saying is, let us have our plants in communities without limits. The best way to ensure people do plant medicine work safely is to get education, information, and support out there. And that’s by building community models of support.” Plazola advocates for a “grow, gather, gift model” in which communities would have an abundant supply of entheogenic plants and fungi and would not need to engage with large institutions to access medicine. 

“If we don’t set limits, then we enable [the] local economy to emerge,” Plazola told Psychedelic Spotlight, warning of how cannabis has been hyper-commodified due to a lack of checks on the power of venture capital over the industry. “Therefore we view with skepticism advocacy against full decriminalization, as we’ve seen in Oregon and California that corporate interests pushed for limits for people, but not for corporations.”

Jon Dennis, an attorney who has been closely involved in developments in Oregon, says that as the rulemaking process has unfolded, “I’ve seen more corporate interests enter into the space and not always be necessarily transparent.” Sometimes “it has not been clear the extent to which an opinion or an idea being expressed is backed by people who have corporate ties.” These conflicts of interests have made him question whether Decriminalize Nature was right to oppose Oregon’s psilocybin therapy bill “and also may have valid concerns behind their opposition to the NMHA.”

Jaz Cadoch, a community activist and anthropologist who sits on the NMHA steering committee, says the bill provides an extremely wide berth for personal use and community gifting. “Let’s say somebody is found with 30 pounds of mushrooms all packaged in small quantities and it looks like it has been prepared for sale, police are not allowed to seize nor arrest the person, give any fines or penalties,” she tells DoubleBlind. “However, it could be taken to court to take a look at, which I support. If anybody could just grow and sell, to me that would seem irresponsible. We need to have some accountability and provisions for newcomers to the space.” 

Cadoch, who is working on a community needs assessment to help local voices shape the implementation of the initiative, also says that New Approach made serious mistakes in its engagement with the grassroots but does not have issues with the substance of the bill. “I actually quite like the language of the NMHA, but I don’t like the way that the campaign was initially set up,” she adds. “It didn’t feel like there was a sincere focus on equitable access from the get-go. It was like this big super PAC came to Colorado and said, ‘Hey, grassroots, we’re gonna do this for you and only include some of you in the process.’  To the established grassroots, it felt oppressive and colonial.”

New Approach initially proposed high possession limits to make the measure palatable to more conservative voters, though these were subsequently removed following conversations with community leaders. It left a sour taste for activists in the mountainous state, which was, along with Washington State, first to legalize cannabis in 2012.

Another bill, Colorado Initiative 61, was put forth in opposition to the NHM by the local Decriminalize Nature group, but it did not gain the requisite support to make the ballot. “Decriminalization isn’t a popular thing for companies and corporations and venture capital,” Rodgers, who worked on Initiative 61, told local media. “Decriminalization is for the people.”

“In order for policymaking to support the people it is designed for, reform should be led by the most impacted communities through an equitable, participatory process,” Matthew Duffy, co-founder of the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform and Education (Spore), a non-profit in Denver, wrote in The Denver Post.

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Read: Inside the Psychedelic Exceptionalism Debate

He has urged Coloradans to vote against the NMHA. “SPORE does not support the NMHA because this policy creates a framework that is inherently inequitable, exploitative, and unjust as the campaign has bypassed the necessary education, resourcing, and community organizing processes that must come first for equitable policy reform to occur,” he wrote.

Bronner, on Dr. Bronner’s blog, replied saying SPORE fails to take into account a number of social justice measures written into the bill, such as “sliding scale fees, the access fund, ensuring low-income people can be licensed, allowing traditional practitioners to not have to do much training to get certified, [and an] advisory board veto over expanding regulated medicines which includes mandatory BIPOC representation.” Bartlett notes that “there’s a provision in there for equitable inclusive procedures, but it’s kind of a catch-all provision. It doesn’t say specifically what those things will look like so it gives the regulatory agency a lot of wiggle room and flexibility.” 

Initiative 61 organizer Nicole Foerster and the others who worked on the Decrim bill stand firm that Coloradans should vote “no” in November, telling local media they think it’s just too soon for a legal framework.  “I believe in the power behind these medicines,” Foerster said. “And I also believe in being very careful about how we go about legalizing them.”

Want more information? Get the latest on this complicated conversation via our free two-part webinar “Decriminalize the Nation: A Two-Part Conversation on Decriminalizing Colorado” on Tuesday, October 25, and Tuesday, November 1. 

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