DENVER — On Thursday, July 22, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office announced that proposed initiative #58 has qualified for the November 8 General Election ballot.
The Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022 would create a regulated access model, creating so-called "healing centers" for patients and removing criminal penalties for people 21 years and older. Individuals younger than 21 could still be charged with a petty drug offense.
It is one of two psychedelics-related measures proponents are trying to get onto November's ballot this year.
Natural medicines in the measure are certain plant or fungi-based psychedelics, like mushrooms that contain psilocybin.
Those behind the measure claim Colorado's approach to mental health has failed, and that the federal government will take years to act. The co-proponents, Veronica Lightning Horse Perez and Kevin Matthews, believe Coloradans should be able to access natural medicines now.
“[They are] designed for folks like veterans who are suffering from PTSD, folks who are suffering from terminal illnesses and are struggling with end of life challenges. And anybody would be able to actually access these services," said Matthews.
“The way we’ve defined personal use, and that we’re approaching decriminalization, is that individuals would be able to use, possess, cultivate, store, and even share these natural medicines without facing any kind of criminal repercussions for it," Perez said.
In 2019, Denver voters decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms. Proponents gathered signatures for the Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022 this spring.
Shannon Hughes in an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Colorado State University who researches psilocybin.
"In clinical trials of depression, they’re finding 60-80% of participants are reporting an immediate and substantial decrease in depression for end-of-life distress when you’re facing a terminal illness," Hughes said about the use of mushrooms containing psilocybin.
For patients, the natural medicines in the measure would be administered at "healing centers," but anything grown outside of one by an individual cannot be sold.
Alan Floyd is a cancer patient who uses psilocybin under the federal Right to Try Act. Floyd said traditional pharmaceuticals did not work for him, and that some even made him suicidal. However, he found some solace in psychedelic mushroom capsules.
Still, Floyd thinks "everyone has to tread very carefully with legalization.”
If the measure is passed, it would create the Natural Medicine Advisory Board, with members appointed by January of next year. The qualifications, education, and training for facilitators of the natural medicines would be outlined by January 2024. Applications from healing centers could be submitted by September 2024.
“The Natural Medicine Advisory Board has a big responsibility here to make sure that the program works for all Coloradans. That advisory board also will be reporting to the state legislature, specifically on the effects of how this is accessible for Coloradans," explained Matthews.
Perez added: "We want to make sure make sure these prices aren’t getting so out of hand that it isn’t equitable. And people from different socioeconomic backgrounds can’t use this medicine, in this way, through the regulated system because the cost is too high."
Going even further, the Natural Medicine Advisory Board could recommend in June 2026 to broaden natural medicines to include other psychedelics.
The exact timeline would be determined by the state, along with the board, during the implementation process.
There's also a retroactive element in the measure, meaning records could be expunged.
Opponents argue the psychedelics would become commercialized in a similar fashion as cannabis in Colorado.
“This is going to be very, very bad for the state of Colorado," said the Director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, Jeff Hunt. “They may start with decriminalization today, but the end game is full commercialization. They want shops on street corners selling psychedelic mushrooms, and they want to make money off of it. This is ultimately about money. This is about making money off the backs of drug addicted Coloradans.”
However, proponents said they do not want to see recreational dispensaries for natural medicines.
“I don’t want to see the pharmaceutical companies having a stranglehold on this medicine," Matthews said.
With so many sides to consider on this one initiative, Coloradans have a lot to think about come November.