On November 8, Colorado voters approved Proposition 122 to decriminalize naturally occurring entheogens and create a pathway to legal, licensed psychedelic healing. The initiative succeeded with 53 percent (over 1.23 million votes) in favor as of publication time.
Prop 122 won 28 of 64 counties statewide, across big cities and small towns. It performed well in both urban and some more rural areas, and in areas that leaned both blue and red.
Now, “so many people who are already offering these services underground [can] continue doing so without fear of criminal repercussions.”
“It’s a huge step up,” Kevin Matthews, coalition director for Natural Medicine Colorado, told Filter in response. It was his organization that got Prop 122, also known as the Natural Medicine Health Act, on the midterm ballot. Now, he said, “so many people who are already offering these services underground [can] continue doing so without fear of criminal repercussions.”
Prop 122 will authorize psychedelic-assisted therapy, making Colorado the second state after Oregon to approve such a program. State officials will develop rules and regulations to license trained psychedelic therapists (“facilitators”), and clinics (“healing centers”) where over-21s can use drugs—initially, only psilocybin or psilocyn—under professional supervision.
The measure will also decriminalize possession, growing and sharing for personal use of psilocybin, psilocyn, ibogaine, mescaline (except peyote) and DMT for adults. People with convictions on charges that are no longer criminalized will be able to ask a court to seal their records upon completion of their sentences, at no cost.
There are no explicit possession limits—nor will there be any legal retail dispensaries, like with cannabis. But residents will be able purchase and use substances at healing centers when they open in the future.
So what happens next? By January 1, 2024, the state must set rules on education and qualification requirements for facilitators. Then by September 30, 2024, it must adopt rules implementing the natural medicine program, and begin accepting license applications—which it would have 60 days to either approve or reject. Matthews predicts that the first centers could open in early 2025, but that’s subject to change.
To help create these rules, the state will—by January 31, 2023—appoint a Natural Medicine Advisory Board. This Board will have 15 members, and must include people with expertise in areas such as health care, drug policy, psychedelics, veterans’ issues and emergency medical services. According to Matthews, anyone can theoretically apply, but all members must be recommended by the governor and then confirmed by the state Senate.
By June 1, 2026, the state must decide if it will expand the program to also include therapy with ibogaine, mescaline or DMT.
By September 30, 2023, the Board must make recommendations to the state Department of Regulatory Agencies (DRA) on topics including product safety, harm reduction, and requirements for training and educating facilitators. None of its recommendations are binding, however, as the DRA has final authority.
The first centers would offer only psilocybin or psilocyn. But by June 1, 2026, the state must decide if it will expand the program to also include therapy with ibogaine, mescaline or DMT—if the Board has first approved such expansions.
In Oregon, a similar advisory board sparked controversy in March 2022, when it was revealed that Tom Eckert—the board chair and director of the successful Measure 109 psilocybin campaign—was influencing the rule-making process while being financially involved in a psilocybin business. Eckert resigned. Matthews, who said he will not be personally applying to join the Board, expressed his hope that Colorado’s ethics laws would prevent such a thing happening again.
From the beginning, Oregon’s psilocybin measure has been criticized even by psychedelic advocates for potentially creating an unequal playing field for businesses and consumers. The state’s health officials concluded that the high costs for businesses to comply with the rules will exclude lower-income patients from treatment. Activists have so far been unable to successfully address this problem through efforts such as offering up a lower-cost, spiritual group ceremony-oriented proposal.
Perhaps in response to Oregon’s experiences, Colorado’s Prop 122 includes a provision preventing individuals from investing in more than five healing centers. Another requirement is that the state must ensure the program is “equitable and inclusive” for disadvantaged groups, including formerly incarcerated people, veterans and Indigenous people.
Initiative 61’s sponsors opposed Prop 122 because they believed it gives too much influence over rule-making to the advisory board, which isn’t elected by voters.
Despite those provisions, divisions over this measure caused some local advocates to oppose Prop 122. They instead brought forward their own, narrower decriminalization proposal: Initiative 61, which didn’t make the ballot, would have simply removed these psychedelics from criminal drug laws, protecting use, cultivation and communal use from fear of arrest. Its sponsors opposed Prop 122 because they believed it gives too much influence over rule-making to the advisory board, which isn’t elected by voters.
It will be several more years before we see psychedelic therapy become a reality in Colorado. But decriminalization will take effect almost immediately—either 30 days after the vote or whenever Governor Jared Polis (D) ratifies the election results, whichever comes sooner.
Photograph by TherapeuticShroom via Pixabay