Colorado Voters Approve Psychedelics Decriminalization Measure

Colorado voters have passed Proposition 122, a ballot measure to decriminalize and regulate psilocybin and other natural psychedelics for therapeutic use.

Voters in Colorado on Tuesday approved a ballot measure to decriminalize the therapeutic use of natural psychedelics including psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in magic mushrooms. With 88% of the vote counted as of Wednesday evening, Proposition 122, the Natural Medicine Health Act, had garnered more than one million voters, representing 51.4% of the votes cast.

“This is a historic moment for both the people of Colorado and our country,” Kevin Matthews, coalition director for Natural Medicine Colorado, said in a statement after the approval of Prop 122 became apparent on Wednesday. “I think this demonstrates that voters here in Colorado are ready for new options and another choice for healing, especially when it comes to their mental and behavioral health.”

The Natural Medicine Health Act creates a state-regulated therapeutic system for adults to access natural psychedelic medicines, such as psilocybin mushrooms, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine and mescaline not derived from peyote. The psychedelics will be available under the guidance of a licensed and supervised facilitator at designated healing centers and healthcare facilities such as hospice centers. The medicines are prohibited from leaving the facilities, and no retail sales are allowed in any form. 

Psychedelics As Therapy

Psychedelics including psilocybin have seen a resurgence of interest in the potential of the drugs to treat a wide range of mental health conditions. The Food and Drug Administration has designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” but has not approved the use of the drug.

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine released a new study showing that psilocybin can quickly and significantly reduce symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. Prior research from the nation’s top medical research universities including Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, and New York University have shown positive patient outcomes for depression and anxiety. Additionally, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has started offering psychedelics to patients as a part of clinical trials.

Psychedelics such as psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT have also been used for centuries by indigenous American cultures for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Matthew X. Lowe Ph.D., research director at psychedelic research nonprofit Unlimited Sciences, says that there are numerous health and wellness benefits “that come from consuming psilocybin.”

“Preindustrial Mesoamerican cultures have consumed psilocybin for thousands of years in ritualized contexts to enhance psychotherapeutic healing, religious insight, and self-exploration,” he told Forbes. “In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the therapeutic potential of psilocybin in treating a range of different psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, substance use disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others.”

“Psilocybin consumption has now been consistently associated with antidepressant and anxiolytic effects and is being considered for the treatment of depression and anxiety,” Lowe continued. “In fact, a recent study determined that decreased brain modularity following psilocybin therapy was correlated with improvements in depressive symptomatology and outcomes when compared with a commonly prescribed” anti-depressant.

Natural Medicines Advisory Board To Be Named

With the passage of Prop 122, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has until January 31, 2023, to appoint 15 members to a new Natural Medicine Advisory Board, which will advise the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies on implementing the measure. The board’s first recommendations are due by September 30, 2023. Recommendations on a facilitator training program for the medical use of psilocybin mandated by the measure are due on January 1, 2023. Regulated access to psilocybin would become available in late 2024.

“Colorado voters saw the benefit of regulated access to natural medicines, including psilocybin, so people with PTSD, terminal illness, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can heal,” Matthews and Veronica Lightening Horse Perez, the measure’s co-proponents, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to working with the regulatory and medical experts and other stakeholders to implement this new law.”

Joshua Kappel, chair of Natural Medicine Colorado and a founding partner of the psychedelics and cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, said “it’s a relief to know that the people of Colorado believe in Prop 122 and the hope of healing these natural psychedelics can provide for those with PTSD, treatment-resistant depression, trauma and other mental conditions.” 

“History has been made this week. We proved to the world it’s possible to pass a ballot measure that not only provides access to natural psychedelic-assisted therapy in a responsible state-regulated setting but also protects individual and community-based healing modalities from arrest and many civil offenses,” Kappel, the author of Prop 122, said in an email to High Times. “Many told us that this dual approach was not wise or possible. Tonight, we showed that inclusive and equitable policies are not only necessary but politically viable.”

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