The Fact Zone
- Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Initiative 301 unofficially passed in Denver
- Initiative 301 decriminalizes but does not legalize, personal possession and use of psilocybin. The initiative also mandates that no city funds may be used to impose criminal penalties on adults aged 21 or older.
- A review panel is to be created on or before December 31, 2019, for the purposes of advising the city council.
- The effort was endorsed and supported by the Libertarian Party of Colorado
Decriminalize Denver, petitioned Denver residents to decriminalize the use and possession of psychedelic mushrooms. They worked with members of the Libertarian Party of Colorado—which advocates for the decriminalization of all drugs—to gather 5,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. Voters were asked the following question:
Shall the Voters of the City and County of Denver adopt an ordinance to the Denver Revised Municipal Code that would make the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms by persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority, prohibit the city from spending resources to impose criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of psilocybin mushrooms by persons twenty-one (21) years of age and older, and establish the psilocybin mushroom policy review panel to assess and report on the effects of the ordinance?”
On Tuesday at 7 pm, it appeared that the initiative would not pass with early results showing the measure losing 51,000 against to 42,700 for. At 10 pm the prospects didn’t look much better, with 61,200 against and 53,100 for. By 5 pm on Wednesday, everything had changed. The unofficial results showed that there were 89,300 for decriminalization and 87,300 against. The results are scheduled to be certified next week.
The FDA has granted “breakthrough therapy” status to psilocybin, meaning that the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms can be studied as a substitute for treatment-resistant depression. Dr. Matthew Johson of Johns Hopkins University stated that, “with a single dose in a safe setting—we’ve seen substantial reductions in depression and anxiety six months later.”
The so-called “war on drugs” has not produced the desired results. Instead, we have jails and prisons filled with people who were in possession of drugs or paraphernalia but had not committed other crimes. Conversely, when we decriminalize drugs such as marijuana, we find that violent crime does not increase and users of the drug can still function in society. While not everything can be compared to marijuana, it should be notable that legalization of pot has created billions of dollars in revenue without also creating a public health crisis.
In addition, there are thousands—if not tens of thousands—of stories of people using marijuana or CBD, which is derived from marijuana, to treat various ailments without endless adverse side effects. Even so, pot is still defined as a schedule 1 drug by the DEA. Schedule 1 drugs are defined as having “high abuse potential, and no accepted medical use.” For reference, heroine is classified as a schedule 1 drug as well. Clearly, marijuana does not belong in the same category as heroin.
In the same vein, psilocybin is also classified as a schedule 1 drug, despite studies that suggest that there are legitimate medical uses for the drug. A study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Alabama, suggests that psilocybin has “low abuse and no physical dependence potential.” The conclusion of the study advised that the drug be reclassified as schedule 4 pending further research. This would put mushrooms in line with Ambien and Valium.
Despite what we know from experience with legalized marijuana and studies conducted on the effects of magic mushrooms, the DEA has not recategorized either of these drugs; instead, possession of these drugs still carries the same weight as possession of Heroine. As a point of interest, methamphetamine and cocaine are not schedule 1 drugs, they are classified as schedule 2, which includes Vicodin, Ritalin, OxyContin, and Adderall.
Decriminalizing mushrooms makes sense. There are more important things to prosecute than the possession of mushrooms. That being said, I don’t believe that mushrooms should be used recreationally, as was done with marijuana. Psilocybin should be used in medical settings and explicitly for the treatment of certain mental conditions. If we want to see the recreational use of drugs go down, we should follow the example of Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs.
In Portugal, you will not be arrested for the possession or consumption of any illicit substance. Instead, you will be issued a warning, a fine, or asked to appear before a panel—consisting of a doctor, a lawyer, and a social worker—to learn about treatment, harm reduction, and support services that are available. A person can still be arrested and criminally charged if they have more than a “10 day supply.” The approach probably sounds radical in the extreme to the average American, but it has shown results that are far superior to the war on drugs.
At the height of the drug crisis in Portugal, one in ten people were using heroin. The stats sound remarkably similar to the opioid crisis that we find ourselves in. In 2017, an estimated 1.7 million Americans were abusing prescription pain killers (see schedule 2 drugs), and 652,000 suffered from heroin use. It has also been found that a full 80% of heroin users started by misusing pain killers.
If the United States is willing to change the way that we view drugs, specifically those which have a medical purpose such as psilocybin, we may begin to see that we have fewer cases of drug abuse and far fewer people incarcerated for simply having drugs in their possession. The residents of Denver have taken a leap of faith and started down the path of decriminalization. Time will tell what the results of this experiment will be, but if it is done correctly, it may be the only way to truly address the issue of drugs.