Denver could become the first US city to decriminalize magic mushrooms

The Mile High City might be getting a whole lot higher.An advocacy group has collected nearly 9,500 s...

Posted: Jan. 10, 2019 2:48 AM
Updated: Jan. 10, 2019 2:48 AM

The Mile High City might be getting a whole lot higher.

An advocacy group has collected nearly 9,500 signatures to get a measure on the ballot in May that would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms in Denver.

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On Monday, petitions were submitted to the city and county of Denver's Elections Division for the measure to appear on the upcoming ballot, and the division has 25 days to review.

While the Denver Elections Division has yet to verify the signatures, the issue is sure to sprout some debate.

"We want people kept out of prison, families kept together," said Kevin Matthews, the campaign director of Decriminalize Denver. "That was the main motivation for this."

It's important to note that the measure would not legalize the use or sale of magic mushrooms in Colorado's capital but instead would treat possession of the drug as the lowest law enforcement priority.

Under federal law, psychedelic mushrooms are classified as a Schedule I drug, the same as heroin or LSD. This means they have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

The Denver Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Matthews says he wants to educate people on the effects of magic mushrooms and remove misunderstanding around their use and purpose.

The group claims psilocybin, a naturally occurring fungi, can reduce psychological stress, reduce opioid use and remain non-addictive.

The Denver Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position on the issue.

A similar effort to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms is underway in Oregon, where advocates are trying to get the issue on the ballot for the 2020 election.

"As the amount of research with psilocybin increases across the world, and more people hear of its significant therapeutic potential, it is only natural that more people are growing curious about it," Amanda Feilding, founder and director of the Beckley Foundation, a drug research think tank based in the United Kingdom, said in an email on Wednesday.

There has been a growing body of research to evaluate psilocybin's possible role in medicine -- and that research is complex, said Dr. George Greer, president the Heffter Research Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a nonprofit that promotes the study of hallucinogens and related compounds in science.

So far, published research has shown that psilocybin can help reduce cancer patients' depression and anxiety, and help benefit alcohol and smoking addictions and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Yet "the problem with the mushroom when used for treatment is that the dose can vary widely and unpredictably," Greer said.

"Additionally, a small portion of people have histories of psychotic or manic episodes, and psilocybin could worsen those conditions or trigger a relapse," he said.

"At present, only a handful of clinicians have been formally trained to administer psilocybin, all in university research projects, and none of them are in Colorado or Oregon," Greer said.

He added that conversations around the use of psilocybin in medicine differ from conversations around legalizing the substance.

"None of this should be interpreted that Heffter or psilocybin researchers believe that people should -- or should not -- be criminalized for possessing psilocybin mushrooms," he said. The institute takes no positions on political issues and individual researchers have their personal preferences.

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