‘Magic mushrooms’ vote too early to call in Colorado

DENVER (AP) — A vote to decide whether Colorado will become the second state, after Oregon, to create a legalized system for the use of psychedelic mushrooms was too early to call Tuesday.

The ballot initiative would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms for those 21 and older and create state-regulated “healing centers” where participants can experience the drug under the supervision of a licensed “facilitator.” The measure would establish a regulated system for using substances like psilocybin and psilocin, the hallucinogenic chemicals found in some mushrooms. It also would allow private personal use of the drugs.

If passed, the initiative would take effect toward the end of 2024. It also would permit a state advisory board to add other plant-based psychedelic drugs to the program in 2026. Those include dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT, ibogaine and mescaline not derived from peyote, which is considered sacred by some Native Americans.

Proponents argued that Colorado’s current approach to mental health has failed and that naturally occurring psychedelics, which have been used for hundreds of years, can treat depression, PTSD, anxiety, addiction and other conditions. They also said jailing people for the nonviolent offense of using naturally occurring substances costs taxpayers money.

But critics noted the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the substances as medicine. They also argued allowing healing centers to operate and permitting personal use would jeopardize public safety and send the wrong message to kids and adults alike that the substances are healthy.

The move comes a decade after Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana after initially allowing its use for medical reasons, which led to a multibillion-dollar industry with hundreds of dispensaries popping up across the state. Critics of the latest ballot initiative say the same deep-pocketed players who were involved in legalizing recreational marijuana are using a similar playbook to create a commercial market, and eventually recreational dispensaries, for dangerous substances.

Voter James Hampl said Tuesday he worries that legalizing the medical use of mushrooms would also open the door to legalizing their recreational use and cause more drug addiction.

“I don’t think we need more psychos running around the street,” he said. “I need to worry about my family.”

But Laura Owsly, 28, who works in the tourism industry, said she supported the measure because she is hopeful psychedelic mushrooms could help people struggling with PTSD.

Allowing their medical would be an important step in researching the efficacy of mushrooms, Owsly said. She was was not concerned it would lead to an increase in addiction.

“It didn’t happen with marijuana, and it’s not going to happen with hallucinogens,” she said.

Under the measure, the psychedelics that would be decriminalized are listed as schedule 1 controlled substances under state and federal law and are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use with a high potential for abuse.

Even so, the FDA has designated psilocybin a “breakthrough therapy” to treat major depressive disorder. The designation can expedite research, development and review of a drug if it might offer substantial improvements over existing treatments.

Colorado’s ballot initiative would allow those 21 and older to grow, possess and share the psychedelic substances but not sell them for personal use. It also would allow people who have been convicted of offenses involving the substances to have their criminal records sealed.

In 2020, Oregon became the first state in the nation to legalize the therapeutic, supervised use of psilocybin after 56% of voters approved Ballot Measure 109. But unlike the Colorado measure, Oregon allows counties to opt out of the program if their constituents vote to do so.

Oregon’s initiative is expected to take effect at the beginning of next year.

Washington, D.C., and Denver have partially decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms by requiring law enforcement officers to treat them as their lowest priority.

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Associated Press writer Jesse Bedayn in Arvada contributed to this report.

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