Denver was the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms—and two and half years after the reform was approved by voters, a panel established under the initiative working to build upon that success.
The City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee delved into the issue at a hearing on Tuesday, with members of the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel making a presentation on recommendations it’s been developing. That includes expanding decriminalization to cover gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.
Kevin Matthews, who spearheaded the 2019 decriminalization effort and now serves as the founder of Vote Nature in addition to being president of the city mushroom panel, discussed a report that the body issued that shows, among other things, that the policy change resulted in a nearly 50 percent reduction in psilocybin arrests to date.
Hospitals have not reported a spike in cases related to the entheogen, and “observational data” indicates that most people are using psilocybin for “health and mental wellness reasons.”
Beyond recommending that psilocybin gifting and communal use be decriminalized, the panel further stressed the importance of providing training to city and county first responders on how to deal with a person undergoing a psychedelic crisis.
“Yesterday was an awesome next step” for the panel, Matthews told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I feel that our report was well-received. We got some great feedback from some of the members of City Council. And we have a bunch more work to do.”
Other members of the panel include Councilman Chris Hinds (D), Denver District Attorney Beth McCann and Denver Police Department Investigations Division Chief Joe Montoya.
The group further recommended creating “co-branded education public service announcements” and a “data collection and reporting system for any law enforcement and emergency interactions involving psilocybin.”
A theme of Tuesday’s presentation to local lawmakers was simple: the sky did not fall after Denver voters decided to make the psychedelic among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities. In fact, it’s ignited a national psychedelic reform movement and has enabled activists to identify opportunities to expand on the novel policy.
While several of the panel’s recommendations can be enacted within the body itself, proposals like decriminalizing gifting and communal use would require legislation from the City Council. And Hinds signaled that he could help lead the charge to that end.
“I’m really excited about how Denver was the leader in our nation” on psychedelics reform, the councilman said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I am very interested in continuing to move forward if it makes sense—and based on all the report recommendations, it does seem to make sense to me.”
Members of the panel also held a press conference shortly after the committee meeting adjourned. Among other issues, Matthews was asked about the status of a potential contract between the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and the city to launch a first-of-its-kind training initiative for first responders.
MAPS has submitted a statement of work to the city attorney’s office and it’s still under consideration, but the hope is that the organization—which is a national leader in psychedelics research—will be able to provide training to police, paramedics and other first responders to effectively navigate situations involving psilocybin.
“The different departments that are going to be working with MAPS on this training are excited,” Matthews told Marijuana Moment. “We’re hoping to get our pilot launched by the end of Q4 of this year.”
Since Denver’s first move to end criminalization for so-called magic mushrooms, there’s been a surge in interest in psychedelics reform at the local, state and federal level.
Just last week, Detroit voters approved a ballot initiative to widely decriminalize psychedelics.
Also in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month.
After local legislators passed that decriminalization resolution last year, the Washtenaw County prosecutor announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi, “regardless of the amount at issue.”
In September, the Grand Rapids City Council approved a resolution supporting the decriminalization of a wide range of psychedelics.
At the same time that local activists are pushing to end criminalization of psychedelics, a pair of state senators have introduced a bill to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of an array of plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
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And last month, lawmakers in a fourth Massachusetts city, Easthampton, voted in favor of a resolution urging the decriminalization of certain entheogenic substances and other drugs.
The action comes months after the neighboring Northampton City Council passed a resolution stipulating that no government or police funds should be used to enforce laws criminalizing people for using or possessing entheogenic plants and fungi. Elsewhere in Massachusetts, Somerville and Cambridge have also moved to effectively decriminalize psychedelics.
The local measures also express support for two bills introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature this year. One would remove criminal penalties for possession of all currently illicit drugs and the other would establish a task force to study entheogenic substances with the eventual goal of legalizing and regulating the them.
Separately, Seattle’s City Council approved a resolution last month to decriminalize noncommercial activity around a wide range of psychedelic substances, including the cultivation and sharing of psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine and non-peyote-derived mescaline.
A bill to legalize psychedelics in California advanced through the Senate and two Assembly committees this year before being pulled by the sponsor to buy more time to generate support among lawmakers. The plan is to take up the reform during next year’s second half of the legislative session, and the senator behind the measure says he’s confident it will pass.
California activists were separately cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state. Oakland, Santa Cruz and Arcata have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.
In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics. Activists in the city are also hoping to expand upon the local decriminalization ordinance by creating a community-based model through which people could legally purchase entheogenic substances from local producers.
Earlier this year, Texas enacted a law directing state officials to study psychedelics’ medical value.
The governor of Connecticut signed a bill in June that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.
The top Democrat in the Florida Senate filed a bill in September that would require the state to research the medical benefits of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA.
A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.
The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.
In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.
Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.
There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee in September.
NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.
An official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also said at a recent congressional hearing that the agency is “very closely” following research into the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelics like MDMA for military veterans.
For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of marijuana reform in Congress, said last month that he intends to help bring the psychedelics reform movement to Capitol Hill “this year.”
In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.
Read the Denver psilocybin panel’s report and recommendations below:
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