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Ballot Measure 58 Looks to Decriminalize Psychedelics in Colorado

If Measure 58 passes, Colorado will become the second state to decriminalize natural psychedelics.

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Until 2017, Colorado resident Alan Floyd lived in a never-ending tunnel of depression. More than a decade had passed since his cancer diagnosis in 2006.

He was alive but took 450 mg of opioids daily to keep the pain at bay. That wasn't working. The pain continued and he was still depressed. Nothing changed.

That's when Floyd tried something different. Psilocybin, known as magic mushrooms, came into the picture.

Psychlobin, illegal in most states, gave him a new lease on life. He still suffers from immense pain. However, psilocybin eliminated his depression.

As the "poster boy" for Measure 58, Floyd hopes others voting for the measure on November 8 will give people the opportunity to have the same benefits of psilocybin as he did.

The measure, "The Colorado Decriminalization, Regulated Distribution, and Therapy Program for Certain Hallucinogenic Plants and Fungi Initiative," looks at decriminalizing five drugs, including psilocybin. It will also create a state-regulated therapeutic access model.

"The goal is to make sure the access is really there for people," Floyd said.

The Initiative

If passed, Colorado would decriminalize five drugs: dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, mescaline (excluding peyote), psilocybin, and psilocin, said Kevin Matthews, one of the measure's co-sponsors. However, decriminalization does not mean legalizing the drugs. Instead, Colorado police deprioritize charges associated with these drugs.

The measure also creates a Regulated Medicine Access Program for licensed healing centers, where people can use the drugs only under the observance of medical professionals.

Third, voting for the measure means defining the substances as natural medication. Furthermore, the measure makes any prior drug convictions retroactive. Individuals with drug charge convictions on the record before the measure's approval could petition the court to seal their records, making it harder for those charges to be used against them in both potential arrest and courtroom situations.

The Background

In February, sponsors Matthews and Veronica "Lightning Horse" Perez brought forth Initiative 58, the Natural Medicine Health Act. By June 27, 2022, the campaign had collected the needed 125,000 votes to put the measure on the ballot.

"This has been a 15-year or 16-month process of working with a lot of folks in our local community here, Denver, Colorado, and other individuals from other parts of the country. We drafted a measure that we felt was compassionate - was going to provide access to natural medicine," Matthews said.

If Measure 58 passes, Colorado will become the second state to decriminalize natural psychedelics. Oregon became the first state when residents approved Measure 109 in November 2020.

However, Matthews said the Colorado measure goes further by allowing people to use the needed services at clinics and homes. Oregon's law only enables people to use medications at service centers.

The Money Trail

The Natural Medicine Colorado, a committee that supports the measure, reports it received $2.76 in contributions, with 99.57 percent coming from New Approach PAC.

New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, is the leader in supporting similar legislation throughout the country.

A recent Colorado Politics article by Marianne Goodland, Who's behind Colorado's magic mushrooms campaign?, mentioned the New Approach PAC donated a hefty sum of about $ 3 million that went straight to NMC.

The Denver-based McCallister Law office donated the other .43 percent to NMC.

Sean T. McAllister is an attorney with 22 years of experience dealing with the law surrounding psychedelic drugs. More importantly, McCallister was the general counsel for the Decriminalize Denver campaign, and Denver's Mayor Michael Hancock appointed McCallister to the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel.

Goodland also provided a detailed breakdown of the New Approach PAC funding in her article.

Dr. Broner's Magic Soaps was the PAC's most prominent funder in 2020 with $3.1 million. The company's owner, David Bronner, is very vocal about his hallucinogenic journeys. He told the New York Times in a February 28 article, "Let's face it, the world would be a far better place if more people experienced psychedelic medicines."

Open Secrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics, listed New Approach's other donors.

Henry Van Ameringen's $2 million donation made it New Approach's second-largest funder. Ameringen, the heir and CEO of International Flavors and Fragrances Company, died in 2020. However, the Van Ameringen foundation told Colorado Politics the foundation does not fund New Approach or psilocybin. Additionally, the foundation has not listed New Approach PAC as one of its grantees on its site. However, individuals can make personal donations.

The other four donors include Scotts Miracle-Gro with $725,000, Tilray Ink with $500,000, DKT Liberty Project with $100,000, and Ghost Management Group with $25,000.

Regulating the Drugs

An in-depth reading of the ballot shows lawmakers put much thought into how to regulate the drugs.

Under this measure, Colorado officials would create a Regulated Natural Medicine Access Program, housed in the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, to monitor the drug's use. State government officials will also form the Natural Medicine Advisory Board to guide the department with implementation and making sure the program follows the measure's rules and timelines.

An essential part of the measure is generating the blueprint for the licensed centers. The centers will start with only administering psilocybin and psilocin until May 31, 2026. Beginning June 1, 2026, the licensed centers can start administering the other three psychedelics as well.

Matthews said ballot writers initially limited the licensing centers to the two drugs because they did not want to overwhelm the program by administering all five medications simultaneously. He further added they focused on psilocybin and psilocin, because scientists have conducted more research on the two drugs.

According to the measure, the department has to design the rules and policies for facilitators to provide natural medicine services to their patients by January 1, 2024. Then, by September 20, 2024, state officials need to implement the program and start accepting license applications. Officials must determine whether or not to accept the application within two months of its submission date.

Department officials must also figure out an application's fees, and these costs must be enough to cover the expenses of the administration of the medication. Then, program officials would keep these fees in a newly created Regulated Natural Medicine Access Fund.

The measure also gives descriptions of the members who are to sit on the advisory board. At least seven members need to be experts in the scientific knowledge of the drugs, at least eight members must have a background in the sociological and/or spiritual impact of the drugs, and one should be an expert in traditional, indigenous uses of natural medicines.

Aside from Oregon, 15 jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia and Detroit, have passed policies to decriminalize psilocybin or deprioritize policing, reduce prosecution, and limit arrests of people with charges related to psilocybin.

The Benefits

The Federal U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already paved the way for research on psilocybin. FDA officials have designated psilocybin with breakthrough therapy designation in 2019 for two clinical trials conducted by Compass Pathways and Usona Institute. Results show psilocybin can benefit severe depression and major depressive disorder.

Matt Zemon, author of Psychedelics for Everyone, discussed the benefits of the other. Experts say Ibogaine shows the potential to help drug addicts with cravings and withdrawals. Mescalin showed the potential to help with depression and anxiety. Most use DMT for religious rituals.

Meanwhile, several organizations have come out against passing Ballot Initiative 58. Some are opposed to decriminalizing any Federal Schedule 1 drug (which still includes cannabis). Others are upset about the potential fro users to either become addicted or, in rare instances, develop hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD). In this condition, hallucinations caused by the psychedelics persist for days or even months after ingesting them. Still others are in favor of decriminalizing psychedelics but don't like the therapy-oriented restrictions placed on their use by the proposed law, or the people funding the ballot initiative.

Colorado voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard on the Natural Medicine Health Act at the polls on November 8, 2022.

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