- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Mile High City could soon get higher now that Denver voters have approved a ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin “psychedelic” mushrooms, making it the nation’s first city to do so.

But opponents worry that authorizing access to psilocybin for purported medicinal properties could trigger a wider legislative movement to embrace the mind-altering staple of the 1960s counterculture, especially given the country’s growing acceptance of marijuana.

Campaigns in California and Oregon are underway to secure similar ballot measures in next year’s elections, while an Iowa lawmaker is pushing a proposal to remove psilocybin from the state’s list of controlled substances.

Psilocybin advocates greeted Wednesday’s narrow victory of Ordinance 301 as further evidence that mainstream perceptions of psychedelics are changing, especially as American society wrestles with far worse drug issues, like the opioid crisis, which killed more than 47,000 people in 2017.

“The national debate over what drugs should be legal has been so twisted by the pharmaceutical drug industry and those who build prisons, the people of Denver showed its time to tackle this conversation differently,” said Cindy Sovine, chief political strategist for Decriminalize Denver, which spearheaded the ballot measure.

“This is the next frontier in the rational, national decriminalization of drugs,” Ms. Sovine told The Washington Times.

Denver has long been a drug pioneer, having decriminalized marijuana in 2005. Colorado then legalized pot for recreational use in 2012, making it the first state to do so. Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, which still remains illegal under federal law.

Infamous for its ability to alter perceptions — including triggering powerful, colorful hallucinations — the psilocybin fungus is also known to induce feelings of spiritual connectedness.

Before the vote, Ms. Sovine and other pro-campaigners argued that psilocybin is a safe, nonaddictive and effective treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and could even offer help treating opioid addiction.

Findings in last year’s annual Global Drug Survey appeared to support some of those claims. Its researchers found mushrooms to be the safest of 13 drugs tested with just 0.3% of users reported seeking medical treatment when using them.

Ordinance 301 does not legalize psilocybin or permit its sale by established cannabis dispensaries, but it does decriminalize its use or possession by anyone 21 or older, essentially eliminating Denver authorities’ ability to arrest and prosecute.

Its opponents expressed outrage, citing the vote as further evidence of a cultural decline that began with Colorado’s legalization of cannabis.

“Denver is quickly becoming the illicit drug capital of the world. We’ll continue to fight the growing drug culture. Marijuana has brought more problems than it’s solved to our city and our state,” James Hunt, vice president of public policy for Colorado Christian University, told The Denver Post on Wednesday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and city District Attorney Beth McCann also opposed the measure.

“We’re still figuring out marijuana, and even though things are going well so far, we’re still measuring the impacts on the people of Denver,” Ms. McCann said before the vote, adding that mushroom-influenced drivers would cause chaos.

The debate over the dangers of psilocybin and marijuana rage nationally. While the federal government categorizes psilocybin as a Schedule I drug and says it has no medicinal value and potential for abuse, researchers at Johns Hopkins University last fall recommended its reclassification as a drug with low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence.

Officials in Denver’s Drug Enforcement Administration office say they intend to continue prosecuting cases of psilocybin possession and trafficking.

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