Coloradans voted to legalize psilocybin. What’s next?

It will be years before Colorado’s new system for the legal use of psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs is fully in place.

But some significant changes are expected to come early next year, and Gov. Jared Polis has pledged to oversee the proper implementation of the measure, which voters approved on Election Day.

“When people pass things, it’s my responsibility as governor to carry them out, whether I agree with them or not,” Polis, who remained neutral on the proposal, said in a post-election interview.

“And of course we likely need enabling legislation to set it up in a way that prevents any negative consequences and honors the will of the voters,” he continued.

The process will begin with changes to drug laws, followed in the next two years by the creation of licensed centers where people can use psilocybin.

Criminal penalties will be removed in a few weeks

The first change will be to remove many criminal penalties for possession of mushrooms containing psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs. The decriminalization will enter into force on January 4, 2023, at the latest, according to the dates provided by the Secretary of State.

At that time, it will no longer be a crime under state or local laws to possess or use “natural medicine” for people over 21 years of age. This includes psilocybin, psilocin, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline. (The law, however, will not allow mescaline extracted from peyote).

The cultivation of psychedelic mushrooms and certain other plants or fungi will also be allowed, provided it is done in a private residence and the plants are kept away from people under the age of 21.

The change also makes it legal to transport, process and give away the drugs to others, as long as it is for “personal use” and no payment is made. Penalties for buying the drugs will also be removed, again for those under 21.

Timothy Lane, legislative liaison for the Colorado District Attorneys Council, is working with law enforcement and prosecutors to prepare for the change.

“It’s very difficult to know what will happen when (decriminalization) starts,” he said. “Honestly, you don’t see a lot of criminal cases involving these drugs. The extent to which it’s used behind the scenes is a bit of an unknown.”

In fact, charges related to psychedelics are relatively rare. Before Denver stopped prioritizing enforcement of anti-psilocybin laws, about 50 people a year were being charged in the city with psilocybin-related crimes.

Kevin Matthews, an organizer of the psilocybin campaign, said it was too early to tell what effects decriminalization would have. But he stressed that the previous change to Denver’s psilocybin policies has had no ill effects on public health or safety, according to a unanimous report by a city advisory panel, which included local law enforcement representatives. the law

“It really hasn’t changed much in Denver after the deprioritization (of psilocybin enforcement). Nor would I expect it to change much across the state. And again, that’s where, you know, we have to ‘wait and see what the results are,’ said Matthews.

But Lane, of the district attorney’s council, expects the state to see more psilocybin sellers on the black market after loosening its drug laws.

“The fact that there is likely to be an increase in the number of people growing it means there will be people selling it,” Lane added.

Drug possession protections will make it harder, he argued, for law enforcement to disrupt these operations. He is also concerned that increased use will lead to people driving under the influence of psilocybin, even though this will still be illegal.

Dr. Mason Marks, a physician and attorney, is the project leader at Harvard Law School’s Project on Psychedelic Law and Regulation. He agreed that there will be black market sales, but downplayed the importance.

“I don’t know if there’s any reason to be very concerned. I think there’s going to be an illicit market in Colorado. There already is anyway,” he said. He added that there are concerns about heart risks associated with ibogaine, one of the other drugs to be 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 Colorado, meaning people who use or sell them could still run into trouble with federal authorities like the Drug Control Agency.

The ‘healing centers’ will come later

There’s also one big thing that won’t change immediately at the state or local level: No one will be allowed to sell these drugs just yet.

Unlike the legalization of cannabis, the psychedelic law does not allow the 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 setting.

It will probably be more than a year before these companies can get off the ground. First, Governor Polis will appoint a “Natural Medicine Advisory Council” by January 31st. This group will include experts in diverse fields such as mycology, medicine, public health, insurance, religion, and criminal justice reform. Law enforcement is not among the groups the governor must include on the board.

The state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies will consult with this group. On January 1, 2024, the agency will create requirements for the training, education and qualifications of the “facilitators” who will run the centers.

After that, the department must adopt more rules for centers and start accepting applications from facilitators by September 30, 2024. At first, centers will only be able to offer psilocybin and psilocin, and not the rest of medicines that are being decriminalized.

Harvard’s Marks said he was particularly concerned about how the state would handle the privacy of data about people who use treatment centers. He questions whether the data privacy rules built into the measure will be strong enough.

“I have no problem with data collection for research, it just needs to be incredibly transparent and completely voluntary,” he said.

Matthews said some of the biggest questions will be about the cost, location and availability of services.

“How much should it cost a person to receive the facilitation of these drugs at a licensed healing center?” he said Towns and cities will not be able to ban centers, although they can regulate where they operate.

Starting in 2026, the state will consider adding non-peyote DMT, ibogaine and mescaline to the menu.

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