It will be years before Colorado’s new system for the legal use of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs is fully in place.
However, some significant changes are expected early next year and Gov. Jared Polis has pledged to oversee smooth implementation of the measure, which voters approved on Election Day.
“When people pass things, it’s my responsibility as governor to implement them, whether I agree with them or not,” Polis, who remained neutral on the proposal, said in a post-election interview.
“And of course we’re probably going to need some enabling legislation to set it up in a way that prevents negative consequences and honors the will of voters,” he continued.
The process will begin with changes to drug laws, which will be followed over the next few years by the creation of licensed centers where people can use psilocybin.
Criminal sanctions are removed within weeks
The first change will be to eliminate many criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin-containing mushrooms and other psychedelic drugs. The decriminalization will take effect no later than January 4, 2023, according to the data communicated by the Office of the Secretary of State.
At that point, it will no longer be a crime under state or local law to possess or use “natural medicine” for people over the age of 21. These include psilocybin, psilocyn, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline. (However, the law does not allow mescaline extracted from peyote.)
Cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms and certain other plants or mushrooms is also permitted as long as it is done in a private home and the plants are kept away from anyone under the age of 21.
The amendment also makes it legal to ship, process, and give the drugs to others, so long as it’s for “personal use” and no payment is made. Penalties for buying the drugs will also be abolished – again for people under the age of 21.
Colorado District Attorneys Council Legislative Officer Timothy Lane is working with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to prepare for the change.
“It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen when (decriminalization) kicks in,” he said. “Honestly, you don’t see many crimes involving these drugs. How often it is used behind the scenes is a bit unknown.”
In fact, psychedelic-related charges are relatively rare. Before Denver deprioritized enforcement of anti-psilocybin laws, about 50 people a year were charged with psilocybin-related offenses in the city.
Kevin Matthews, an organizer of the psilocybin campaign, said it’s too early to tell what impact decriminalization will have. However, he stressed that Denver’s earlier change in psilocybin guidelines had no negative impact on public health or safety, according to a unanimous report by a city advisory group that included representatives from local law enforcement.
“Really, not much has changed in Denver after deprioritization (the enforcement of psilocybin). I wouldn’t expect much to change nationwide either. And again, we’ll have to wait and see what the results are,” Matthews said.
But Lane of the District Attorney’s Council expects the state will see more black market sellers of psilocybin after relaxing its drug laws.
“The fact that the number of people growing it is likely to increase means there will be individuals selling it,” Lane added.
Protecting possession of the drug will make it harder for law enforcement to disrupt those operations, he argued. He also worries that increased use will lead to people driving under the influence of psilocybin, although this will still be illegal.
dr Mason Marks, a physician and attorney, is the project director of Harvard Law School’s Psychedelics Law and Regulation Project. He agreed there would be black market sales but downplayed the importance.
“I don’t know if there’s any reason to be super worried. I think there will be an illegal market in Colorado. There are already anyway,” he said. He added that there are concerns about cardiac risks associated with ibogaine, one of the other drugs being decriminalized. Ibogaine also shows potential for addiction treatment, he said.
Meanwhile, even after the upcoming change, federal bans on psilocybin and other drugs will remain in place in Colorado — meaning people caught using or selling could still get in trouble with federal agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“Healing Centers” come later
There’s also one big thing that’s not about to change at the state or local level anytime soon: Nobody will be allowed to sell these drugs just yet.
Unlike the legalization of cannabis, the Psychedelics Act does not allow retail sale of the drug. Instead, the state will eventually allow the creation of “healing centers” where people can pay to use psilocybin and psilocin in a supervised environment.
It will likely be more than a year before these companies can launch. First, Governor Polis will appoint a “Natural Medicines Advisory Board” by Jan. 31. This group will include experts from diverse fields such as mycology, medicine, public health, insurance, religion and criminal justice reform. Law enforcement is not listed among the groups the governor is required to place on the board.
The State Department of Regulatory Agencies will consult with this group. By January 1, 2024, the agency will create requirements for the education, training and qualifications of the “facilitators” who will run the centers.
After that, the Ministry must issue further rules for the centers and accept applications from moderators by September 30, 2024. Initially, centers may only offer psilocybin and psilocyn, not the other drugs that are being decriminalized.
Harvard’s Marks said he was particularly concerned about how the state would manage privacy for people using the healing centers. He wonders if the data protection rules built into the measure will be strong enough.
“I have no problem collecting data for research, it just has to be incredibly transparent and completely voluntary,” he said.
Matthews said some of the key issues are cost, location and service availability.
“How much should it cost for a person to get these drugs at a licensed healing center?” he said. Cities and municipalities cannot ban the centers but can regulate where they operate.
Beginning in 2026, the state will consider adding DMT, ibogaine, and non-peyote mescaline to the menu.