In the middle of a global crisis, the Society for Psychedelic Outreach, Reform, and Education (SPORE) is still focused on the mission of building a global psychedelics community. But it’s not profit they’re after. The group recently received nonprofit status, and their goal is not to repeat the same mistakes they fear the cannabis industry made.
“Right now, we’re registered as a nonprofit corporation in Colorado,” said Kevin Matthews, co-founder and executive director. “We’ve received fiscal sponsorship from an organization called Reconsider, a 501c3 nonprofit based in New York. They have an educational focus, and so do we.
The goal of SPORE is to educate, inform, and pave the way, rather than to simply set up an industry for profit.
“I worked on the 2005 decriminalization effort here in Denver, and being a part of psilocybin legalization reminded me a lot of that process,” explained Kayvan Khalatbari, director of SPORE and former cannabis entrepreneur and advocate in Denver. “Folks were in it for the right reasons, and were bootstrapping things and getting things done. Cannabis decriminalization started with the message that we didn’t want people to go to jail for something that was far less dangerous than alcohol; we didn’t want to see the racial disparities or the people losing their homes, their jobs.”
Since the beginning of the end of the war on drugs, Khalatbari has been either in or closely observing the industry, and he didn’t always like what he saw. In the early days, he claimed it was hard to even raise money for a legalization effort because things were still so taboo. Now, companies are product- and profit-focused, and he fears cannabis has become just another industry. He also decries the fact that people of color, women, and other marginalized groups still have a way to go to gain equity in the industry. He would like the psychedelics industry to put people over profits.
“I think everyone at SPORE has the mindset that we want this industry to be an ecosystem,” he explained. “Even if we have disagreements with people, even if we have different ideas about what the psychedelic space should be, that we can work together and push for change.
Will Psychedelic Legalization Be Next?
Although Denver has become one of the few cities in the U.S. to decriminalize mushrooms, there is no legal, recreational industry for psychedelics in the U.S. as of yet. Many who watched cannabis legalization unfold feel that it’s just a matter of time before an industry does emerge, and Khalabari is all for that. He just wants to make sure things start off on the right foot, in a way that holds up the marginalized.
“I think a lot of it starts with the policy, and that’s something we didn’t do in the cannabis industry,” he added. “I was chair and served three terms with the Minority Cannabis Business Association on their board, and we came in after a lot of these states had legalized cannabis already. It’s very difficult to go back and to add equity into the picture after a state has already legalized and regulated; it’s next to impossible. You have too many lobbying forces existing and industry stakeholders that simply don’t want to see a more equitable industry because it takes away from their bottom line. That’s why it’s really important to get in from the ground up and set that example for the rest of the country.”
In addition to setting the stage for a brighter tomorrow, the group is working to stay relevant during COVID. They threw an online festival for bicycle day last weekend, and they’ve started an online movement called #SacredSolidarity.
“We’re really encouraging people to demonstrate acts of reciprocity in their communities if they want to be involved in this movement,” Matthews said. “Whether being of service to your community means going to a food bank or doing a grocery run for folks who can’t get out of their homes or who are too sick to go shopping, or maybe planting a tree or sowing some seeds, we’re asking folks to take a video or a photo and make a post of them helping out with the hashtag #SafeSolidarity.”
A year into decriminalized psilocybin, SPORE is mobilizing to prepare for full legalization, but for now, their focus is on spreading positivity and creating a space for discussion Further down their line, they’d like to see even more extensive decriminalization to stop the targeting of minorities and stalling of progress.
“My personal, broader mission is to see an end to the war on drugs,” Khalatbari said. “I think cannabis was a great foundation for that conversation. But I think psychedelics, and what we can see happen in the mental health space and the industrial space, could really heal our planet.”
This weekend, SPORE will be hosting a free online event for Bicycle Day.