Opinion – Psychedelic Turn: Colorado holds referendum on ‘magic’ mushrooms in November

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Brazilians will decide Sunday the future of the country, or if it will have a future. Nine days later, it will be Colorado voters’ turn to cast their vote on a law that could change the public’s perception of psychedelics and seal the fate of mental health benefits.

The United States and Brazil, in particular, are in great need of alternatives to face the epidemic of depression and anxiety triggered by the rise of the extreme right and the inhumane way in which Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro have treated the pandemic.

The difference is that local and state governments are taking steps to regulate adult use of “magic” mushrooms after marijuana. Here, bolsonaristas in control of the Federal Council of Medicine try to limit access to cannabidiol (CBD), which doesn’t even give you high, but relieves the suffering of many people.

The referendum is aimed at Proposition 122, which bears similarities to Measure 109 passed in 2020 in Oregon, but seeks to go further. As in the northwestern state, Colorado will be voting for psilocybin, a psychoactive in “magic” mushrooms. psilocybe.

The drug present in the fungi would then be administered to people over 21 years of age in authorized centers, by licensed facilitators, without the need for a prescription from a health professional. It would be an alternative to the dominant medical model, which chose the path of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to obtain a license from the FDA drug agency and, if successful, apply psychedelics only in psychotherapy, funded by health insurance.

The differences with the Oregon process start with the name. While the referendum there introduced the Psilocybin Services Act, in Colorado the legislation, once passed, will be called the Natural Health and Medicine Act (NMHA for short).

Psilocybin is just the beginning. In June 2026, the state will decide whether to include other psychedelic substances in the law, such as dimethyltryptamine (DMT, found in ayahuasca), ibogaine and mescaline – but not the peyote cactus, from which it can be extracted; the exclusion is advocated by indigenous peoples concerned about the extinction of the plant, which can take a decade to mature.

The deadline for the NMHA to go into effect is slightly shorter. Instead of two years as in Oregon (i.e. January 2023) this could be up to 21 months no later than September 30, 2024.

Finally, the NMHA, if approved, will immediately decriminalize the possession and production of these substances. And not just for personal consumption: no person can be arrested or criminally prosecuted if they hold the necessary amounts to share with friends and acquaintances. Not being for sale, it is released.

Such liberality may surprise Brazilians trapped in the retrograde pattern of customs, but the people of Colorado have already shown that they no longer fall for the tale of the prohibitionist vicar (or pastor). In 2012, it became one of the first states to authorize adult marijuana use, alongside Washington in the northwest.

However, the movement to decriminalize psychedelics is divided. Organizations such as Decrim Nature and Spore recommend voting “no” to the NMHA, claiming that requirements for a facilitator’s license or opening a “cure center” will favor large corporations, as in the case of cannabis.

They also criticize the stipulation of a limit to individual possession, even if vague (“amount needed to share”). That would still leave the door open for authorities to decide how much that amounts to, while preserving their arbitrary power to criminally prosecute some people.

Those organizations favored a bolder legislative proposal, of total decriminalization, Initiative 61. They were not, however, able to gather all the signatures for it to enter the ballot on November 8th.

For NMHA supporters, such voting guidance is nonsense. If followed by voters, any possession of psychedelics in Colorado will continue to result in arrests, quite the opposite of what is intended.

They also accuse libertarians of omitting that the referendum proposal would prevent entrepreneurs from owning more than five psilocybin centers. The barrier was designed to deter corporate assault, but it is true that the restriction in the text is only aimed at “individuals”, without specifying companies that plan to enter the Colorado market with multiple branches.

At the Horizons Northwest conference held in Portland in September to debate the Oregon model, speakers familiar with the NMHA campaign said it tends to pass. It advances Oregon’s Psilocybin Services Act, for example by establishing that there will be custom license fees for traditional facilitators and healers in low-income communities.

The improvements are the result of experience gained from the regulatory process in Oregon. California tried to decriminalize psychedelics with a bill in the state Senate, but it dropped from the agenda in March. In Connecticut, the government launched a pilot program to give psilocybin or MDMA to veterans.

Several cities have already proceeded with the less or more liberal decriminalization of psychedelics, such as California’s Oakland, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, as well as Denver, Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Seattle and even Washington, DC. Although at different speeds, important sectors of the US – despite Trump and half of the country that supports him – are negotiating an armistice in the War on Drugs, which in half a century has only reaped failures.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the discussion about mental health only has room for what goes through the minds of Jair Bolsonaro, Damares Alves and Roberto Jefferson.

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To learn more about the history and new developments of science in this area, including in Brazil, look for my book “Psiconautas – Travels with Brazilian Psychedelic Science”.

Be sure to also see the reports from the series “A Resurreição da Jurema”:

https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrissima/2022/07/reporter-conta-experiencia-de-inalar-dmt-psicodelico-em-teste-contra-depressao.shtml

https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrissima/2022/07/da-caatinga-ao-laboratorio-cientistas-investigam-efeito-antidepressivo-de-psicodelico.shtml

https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrissima/2022/07/cultos-com-alucinogeno-da-jurema-florescem-no-nordeste.shtml

It is worth remembering that psychedelics are still experimental therapies and certainly do not constitute a panacea for all mental disorders, nor should they be self-medicated. Talk to your therapist or doctor before venturing into the area.

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