Decriminalization of magic mushrooms in Denver takes a step forward as supporters turn in signatures

The measure could appear before voters on the May ballot.
4 min. read
Volunteer Hope Mellinger carries a box full of signatures for the Denver Psilocybin Initiative on Monday, Jan. 7, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

UPDATE: On February 1, 2019, the Denver Elections Office announced that the decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms will be on the May citywide ballot.

Advocates pushing for the decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms dropped off signatures on Monday for a spot on Denver's municipal election ballot in May.

Chanting "Free the spores," supporters delivered more than 9,000 signatures to the Denver Elections office following a brief press conference outside the City and County Building on Monday afternoon.

The bill would decriminalize possession, use and home cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms, or psilocybin, for adults 21 and older in the City and County of Denver. Decriminalize Denver is the main sponsor of the bill, which is formally called the Denver Psilocybin Initiative.

Campaign director for the psilocybin initiative Kevin Matthews said the bill would increase access for people who can benefit from psilocybin to help treat certain medical conditions. Matthews added there's usually about 70 people arrested annually for psilocybin possession in Denver.

"This is very simply to allow individuals to use, possess and propagate a naturally occurring substance without facing criminal penalties in Denver, without facing a felony, without losing their family or their livelihood or their job," Matthews said.

"We're making psilocybin the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver," Matthews added. It would not decriminlize its public consumption.

Matthews said the effort behind the campaign was "grassroots" and was started with an idea just over a year ago. He said people attending Monday's event want to see "this kind of legislation take place across the country." Federally, psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I substance. In Denver, possession of this substance would be a Class 4 Felony, according to a Denver Police spokesperson.

Matthews said they conducted a poll last year that showed 45 percent support for the initiative.

Melanie Rodgers was among the bill's original sponsors and said the bill is a "step in the right direction" in helping people avoid jail time for using "plant medicine."

"I truly believe that plant medicine should be a viable option for us here," Rodgers said.

The bill is not a legalization measure, though supporters said it could lead to medicinal legalization.

Matthews said their campaign is modeled after previous marijuana decriminalization bills. Matthews said he would like to see the bill lead to a "regulatory medical model."

Denver Psilocybin Initiative campaign director Kevin Matthews speaks during an event promoting a proposed measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms on Monday, Jan. 7, 2018, in Denver. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

"We're not legalizing here," Matthews said before Monday's presser. "Essentially, what we're doing is keeping people out of prison for what is essentially a non-violent criminal offense."

Psilocybin has been shown to work well in treating depression in some cancer patients. It's helped Chris from Boulder treat multiple conditions, including complex post-traumatic stress disorder and spinal tumors.

Chris -- who declined to give his last name -- is currently prescribed psilocybin by his doctors. He takes them on a daily basis, which he said it helps with night terrors as well. He's been using them for 11 months.

"Part of my complex PTSD is a societal issue, that nobody can get away from, and I think mushrooms would help anybody out there," Chris said. "I have two children. I would tell them to take it."

Matthews said the bill also includes language that would prevent Denver from using public funds or resources to prosecute people charged with psilocybin-related crimes and establish a Denver psilocybin review panel. The panel would include City Council members, health professionals, law enforcement and Decriminalize Denver members.

Monday marked the deadline for supporters to drop off signatures for ballot measures to be considered for the May ballot.

Denver Elections spokesperson Alton Dillard said supporters need 4,726 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Similar to statewide ballot measures, Denver residents can gather signatures to have a ballot measure considered by local voters if they get enough support for the measure.

Views of Denver's City and County Building.

So far, two citizen-led measures have qualified for the ballot. A bill increasing the minimum wage to $15 for DIA employees and the Denver Right to Survive Initiative will appear before voters on the May ballot. Organizers for the Let Denver Vote Initiative, a measure instituting a public vote to use public money for the Olympics, were also dropping off signatures on Monday.

Denver's municipal election takes place May 7.

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