Denver's ‘Magic’ Mushroom Law

Mushrooms are experiencing a renaissance. Or, rather, they’re now prototypes, paving paths as tools for everything from sustainable meat to animal-free leather. Now a few cities are decriminalizing magic mushrooms as psilocybin’s medicinal potential earns a spotlight with prestigious research facilities and medical journals.

Denver voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms last year, the first U.S. city to do so. Oakland and Santa Cruz followed suit in California, and more cities are expected to follow. Denver’s legislation, Initiative 301, was buoyed by the highly successful state-wide legalization of cannabis in 2014. That created thousands of jobs and brought a gold rush of sorts — entrepreneurs flocked to the state leading to an economic boom. Colorado sold a record $1.75 billion worth of cannabis in 2019.

Psilocybin won’t likely bring Denver anything close to cannabis revenues, but it does spark a conversation around psychedelics and their medical potential.

Denver is a prototype for what many hope is a first step toward further liberation. Psilocybin is one of many psychedelics being studied by a number of researchers, including the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. It’s looking at the effectiveness of psilocybin in treating opioid and alcohol addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, Lyme disease syndrome, eating disorders, and general depression.

“Johns Hopkins is deeply committed to exploring innovative treatments for our patients,” Paul B. Rothman, M.D., Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement on the school website. “Our scientists have shown that psychedelics have real potential as medicine.”

Why Denver?

Colorado is one of 26 states that has initiative or referendum processes. Colorado allows qualifying initiatives to go straight to ballot with a low signature threshold. It requires signatures from five percent of the people who voted for the Secretary of State, rather than the Governor, to get a ballot presence. This low number makes it a target state for controversial legislation.

The new legislation went into effect on March 1, so experts say it’s too soon to determine whether it will be effective in reducing arrests. But, as  Kevin Matthews, the Initiative 301 campaign manager, told the Denver Post last year, the victory is “a clear signal to the rest of the country that it’s time to have a broader conversation about psilocybin.”

Prior to decriminalization, psilocybin use in Denver could have brought a 12-month prison sentence and fines up to $750. Under the new rules, it would only bring a possible probation of up to one year, maximum penalties of 120 days in prison and $500 in fines — if the city decides to prosecute at all.

Initiative 301 essentially makes personal use and possession the lowest law enforcement priority. City officials are prohibited from spending resources to pursue criminal charges for this type of possession.

Psilocybin is still illegal in Denver, and mass quantities could bring more severe punishment. Federal laws are still in place. And decriminalization laws disappear as soon as you step outside of Denver’s city limits.

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