A national advocacy group has submitted two separate proposals that would decriminalize psychedelics in Colorado in an effort to put the issue before voters in next year’s general election. New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee, filed the decriminalization proposals with the office of the Colorado Secretary of State on December 3, according to media reports.
The first proposal would decriminalize the psychedelic drugs ibogaine, DMT, mescaline (excluding peyote), psilocybin and psilocin for adults 21 and older, with a cap of four grams of the psychoactive substances. Under the measure, the governor would be required to appoint a Natural Medicine Advisory Board, which would be tasked with implementing decriminalization. The state would also license healing centers to supply psychedelic drugs and assist clients using them.
The second measure is similar to the first, but would decriminalize only psilocybin and psilocin, the psychedelic compounds found in “magic mushrooms.” Under the proposal, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies would implement decriminalization in a fashion similar to the one outlined in the first initiative.
If one or both of the proposals is approved by the Secretary of State’s office, organizers would then need to collect the required signatures to qualify the measures for the ballot in 2022.
“Our goal is to make the healing benefits of these natural medicines available to people they can help, including veterans with PTSD, survivors of domestic or sexual abuse, people with treatment-resistant depression and others for whom our typical mental-health treatments just aren’t working,” Ben Unger, psychedelic program director for New Approach PAC, told Westword.
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Psychedelics for Health and Wellness
Researchers continue to study the potential medicinal applications of psilocybin and other natural psychedelic drugs, which are often also referred to as entheogenic plants and fungi. A study published last year in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy was a quick-acting and effective treatment for a group of 24 participants with major depressive disorder. And separate research published in 2016 determined that psilocybin treatment produced substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer.
Denver was the first major municipality to decriminalize psychedelics in 2019, and similar measures have been passed by Oakland, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Cambridge, Massachusetts since then. In October, city leaders passed a psychedelics decriminalization resolution in Seattle, the largest U.S. city to approve such legislation to date. And in November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure that decriminalized psilocybin and legalized the compound for therapeutic use.
Kevin Matthews, the leader of the group that campaigned for Denver’s psychedelics decriminalization measure, is now lobbying for the statewide effort advanced by national advocates.
“We’re glad to have New Approach as a partner who can help us bring this level of change to the entire state, because we’re going to create more opportunities for so many people to receive the help they need to deal with mental health conditions that are otherwise devastating,” Matthews said. “Creating new opportunities for people to heal is what drives us, and we look forward to engaging with Colorado residents on this issue.”
Activists Disagree on Best Path to Psychedelics Decriminalization
But not all psychedelics activists in Colorado agree with the New Approach proposals. Nicole Foerster, head of Decriminalize Nature Boulder County, said that she is concerned about some of the language in the potential ballot measures.
“They’re looking to create these top-down, restrictive policies in places where grassroots community has been the strongest and where policy has been passed by grassroots community,” Foerster said at a virtual meeting of the group held on December 16.
Foerster noted that local activists were not involved in drafting the proposals from New Approach, but said they are now trying to cooperate with the national group.
“We are trying to push and influence them to only include psilocybin and psilocin, because they said they’re unwilling to do anything that”s not going to set up a regulatory framework,” she added.
Unger said that the New Approach initiatives include a regulatory framework so that psychedelics can help as many people as possible safely.
“We believe more people will be served and treated by making psychedelics available in a safe, regulated and consistent way,” Unger said. “These natural medicines can be life-changing for so many, and we want people to be confident that the treatment they’re receiving is high-quality and held to clear standards of accountability.”
Some local activists at the Decriminalize Nature Boulder County virtual meeting expressed concerns that New Approach may be moving too quickly, but Matthews disagreed.
“We’ve been discussing the possibility of statewide reform since this spring, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far to ensure this initiative will be ready on the timeline necessary to set it up for success,” Matthews said. “We still have more outreach and collaboration to do in the coming weeks, and it’s been exciting working alongside so many of my colleagues and friends from our successful effort in Denver in 2019.”
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