Colorado voters passed in November the “Natural Medicine Health Act,” which will create “healing centers” where adults over 21 can take mushrooms with a licensed sitter. The Department of Regulatory Agencies is slated to oversee the program, and the office of the Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently announced the 15 board members who will advise on rules.
The board is filled with the resumes of folks seemingly well-regarded in their fields, including a long-time paramedic, a Purple Heart recipient, three experts on indigenous use, five PhDs, two lawyers, a county commissioner, and a sheriff. On seeing the list, the collective response from the local psychedelic community—including a dozen or so people interviewed by DoubleBlind—could be summarized as: “Who?”
“No one known to us in the Colorado plant medicine and psychedelic communities received an invitation to serve, even while many were interviewed,” said Shannon Hughes, a professor at Colorado State University who has been organizing the monthly Psychedelic Professionals meetups in four cities for years through The Nowak Society. Dozens of people applied who openly live and breathe psychedelics: therapists and researchers, mushroom growers, retreat leaders, doctors, and advocates in political movements. This perceived snub of psychedelic applicants rankled many, especially folks who’d been around the scene for decades.
READ: Why Everyone Cares So Much About Colorado’s Psilocybin Bill
“I was disappointed that Colorado’s deep knowledge and experience with psychedelics is not well represented on this board,” said Dr. Scott Shannon. He’s a psychiatrist with a 40-year history in the field, having done MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the 1980s—before the drug was scheduled—and decades later as a part of trials, conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.
DORA said 225 people applied. Being on the board is a crucial way to influence the look, feel, cost, and viability of the healing centers. The board will help set rules for sitter training programs, growing licenses, costs, and more. Three years from now, the board will also help decide whether to expand the roster of medicines at healing centers beyond psilocybin to DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline. The members await senate confirmation.
“The panel is not, publicly at least, a visibly well-informed group around psychedelics,” said Dr. Case Newsom, an emergency physician who speaks and teaches about psychedelics.
A similar board in Oregon included familiar names from the psychedelic world, including the chief petitioner for the Oregon law and a well-known cannabis doctor.
Does the Board Lack Psychedelic Knowledge?
Google searches for the names of board members plus words like psilocybin, natural medicine, or psychedelics, yielded minimal results. DoubleBlind and other press were not permitted to interview the board members to learn more. DORA asked board members to forward press inquiries to DORA. In an email, DORA declined to approve any interviews.
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Criticism includes that some bios of members of the Colorado board appear psychedelically naive or skeptical. Wendy Buxton-Andrade is a Republican county commissioner from the conservative Eastern Plains who is deeply versed in the opioid crisis. Bradley Conner is a professor who leads a lab studying addictive and risky behaviors, including drug misuse and substance dependence. David Lucero is the sheriff of republican-leaning Pueblo county, which voted against the mushroom law by a wide margin.
On the other hand, several board members appear steeped in psychedelics. Former weed journalist Ricardo Baca runs a public relations firm focused on cannabis and psychedelics. Therapist Heather Lundy offers psychedelic integration. Author Clarissa Pinkola Estés has written about curanderismo. Sofia Chavez is a member of the International Collaboration of Indigenous Healers, Curanderos, Sanadores y Shamans, and worked to integrate curanderismo into primary care. Sue Sisley, MD, is a noted cannabis and psychedelics researcher and advocate, who notably has opened up about watching her dying mother experiment with LSD and mushrooms.
READ: Where Are Magic Mushrooms Legal?
There were seats intentionally filled by people with areas of expertise outside psychedelics. Katina Banks, J.D was picked to fill a seat focused on criteria for approving permitting organizations over other applicants who presumably know a lot more about psychedelics, such as Sean McAllister and Josh Kappell, who helped write the law. Alisa Hannum is a clinical psychologist about whom the internet shows no relationship to natural medicines, and she was picked over a large number of other psychologists, who have been out and advocating about psychedelics, including psychedelic therapists like Rob Colbert and Dori Lewis.
If board members don’t have a deep, personal relationship with psychedelics, Lewis told us, “you’re just playing around with something you don’t understand.”
Governor Jared Polis, who appointed the board, said he’s never tried mushrooms. DORA, which houses the board, admits it “has no idea what to do with psilocybin,” reported the Colorado Sun. “The department has no resources or expertise to begin implementation of this expansive new program,” DORA wrote in a budget document. “It just doesn’t fit in the mold of what we regulate,” a spokesperson told the Sun, adding that the Natural Medicine Colorado campaign did not ask DORA whether it wanted to regulate psilocybin. DORA asked the state for $700,000 to seek expert advice.
So why was this board chosen the way it was? The state prioritized diversity, said Katie O’Donnell, Director of Communications and Public Engagement for DORA. “We sought to balance lived experience with research, but also valued understanding of rulemaking or regulations,” said O’Donnell.
The board is diverse. It’s 40 percent BIPOC, has at least two LGBTQIA+ folks, and three who hold indigenous lineage. There is geographic diversity, representing the rocky mountains and the flat plains and up and down the populated Front Range. There are folks from local government and private business.
“When I look at the list of appointees, I see a diverse group of people from across the state with a range of relevant skills and experience,” said Tasia Poinsatte, who leads the Healing Advocacy Fund, a nonprofit funded by many of the same folks who funded the Natural Medicine campaign.
A Lack of Conflicts of Interest
Some fears of psychedelic Coloradans may be allayed by this board—specifically, worries of a “corporate takeover of mushrooms.” While many Coloradans are openly laying groundwork for the coming psilocybin industry, to open “healing centers,” grow facilities or training programs, the board tends not to be obviously on that track. Nor does the board seem packed with political cronies.
The state may have wanted to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, so the board wasn’t making rules for themselves or friends. And so searched far away from the psychedelic movement for board members.
A board that doesn’t live and breathe psychedelics might actually be a welcome sight to the average Coloradan. After all, 46 percent of Coloradans voted against the law.
A state regulatory board should be a mix of viewpoints and life experience, many people argued, so that rules end up balanced. If this was a board regulating fracking, for example, Coloradans might want a few oilmen—but also a few environmentalists.
“I’m actually super stoked about this board,” said Kevin Franciotti, an expert in the power of psychedelics to treat addiction, who applied to the board and was rejected. “I feel like it’s the most passionate psychedelic advocates that are more likely to be blinded by their idealism and fuck things up.”
READ: Decriminalization vs. Legalization: What’s the Difference?
Limits on Personal Use Threatened?
Along with establishing healing centers, the NMHA has a section on “personal use.” It legalized mushrooms, DMT, mescaline, and ibogaine for “personal use.” You cannot sell them, but it’s not a crime to grow, possess, use, give away and even purchase these drugs.
The president of the Colorado state Senate, Steve Fenberg, favors limits. “There needs to be some rules of the road,” Fenberg told a town hall in Boulder packed with psychedelic advocates pleading with Fenberg not to lead an effort to add limits. Fenberg said he was not anti-mushrooms—in fact he used to buy them, he said—he just wanted clarity for law enforcement. “If they pull over a truck on the highway full of mushrooms, is that personal use? According to the ballot measure, that arguably is.”
Lobbyists and lawyers have told grassroots activists that a group of legislators are coming to denude the personal use protections. The Natural Medicine Health Act defined possession limits as what’s “necessary,” and that vague languaging was part of what initially had activists, who favor no possession limits, concerned. Additionally, the act does include equity and inclusion measures, but those were also vague and left to be determined by the state. All eyes are on Colorado, not only because the advisory board will determine what this program looks like in the state, but because legislators in a number of other states, including Utah and Missouri, are also introducing bills that would create access to supported psilocybin sessions this year.
Reilly Capps has written about drugs for Rooster Magazine, The Washington Post, The Telluride Daily Planet, LucidNews, 5280, Chacruna, The Third Wave, and the MAPS Bulletin. A licensed EMT, he used to answer 911 calls on the ambulance in Boulder, Colo., where he learned how drugs affect a community. Read all his work at Authory and follow him on Twitter @reillycapps