Colorado looks set to legalize magic mushrooms in this week’s midterm elections, with the group opposing the ballot question conceding defeat. As of Thursday afternoon, Proposition 122 was passing with 51.4% of the vote, though the referendum is still too close to call officially, with 89% of the vote counted.
Colorado would be the second state to legalize psychedelics, following Oregon’s 2020 passage of a similar ballot question. Like Oregon, Colorado plans to create licensed “healing centers” where people can take magic mushrooms under supervision.
“This is a truly historic moment. Colorado voters saw the benefit of regulated access to natural medicines, including psilocybin, so people with PTSD, terminal illness, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can heal,” Kevin Matthews and Veronica Lightning Horse Perez, leaders of Natural Medicine Colorado, which campaigned for the measure, wrote in a statement emailed to STAT.
Psilocybin, the psychedelic molecule in magic mushrooms, is being studied as treatment for mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, but the studies are so far too few and too small to reach the standards that the Food and Drug Administration needs to consider for medicinal approval.
The most advanced study for psilocybin, a Phase 2b trial on the drug for treatment-resistant depression published earlier this month, found the drug was effective at inducing remission in many patients, but the results were less striking than in earlier studies. Researchers are planning to study different dosing regimens in subsequent studies, and are monitoring whether there is a link between psilocybin and suicidality.
Scientific research also excludes participants with a first degree relative with psychosis, such as schizophrenia, meaning there’s no strong data on whether the drugs create a risk of triggering such conditions.
Luke Niforatos, chief executive of Protect Colorado’s Kids, which opposed the measure, conceded defeat on Wednesday evening.
“Today’s passage of proposition 122 brings a question of who will decide what is medicine in the future,” he wrote to STAT. “Twice now, Colorado has defied both federal law and the FDA and favored the promises of billionaires and entrepreneurs marketing their latest drug fascinations as ‘medicine’. The question we must ask ourselves is, whom do we trust more with medicine: billionaire entrepreneurs or doctors and scientists?”
His campaign, which disclosed $50,000 spent on digital ads and texts, was significantly outspent by Natural Medicine Colorado, which reported spending nearly $4.5 million in support of the ballot measure. Significant funding came from out of state, including from a PAC supported by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.
Unlike marijuana, magic mushrooms won’t be sold in retail settings in Colorado for people to take at home. Instead, entrepreneurs will be permitted to create supervised venues where people can take the hallucinogenic drug. Growing and sharing magic mushrooms and several other psychedelic plants for personal use was also decriminalized, which follows Denver’s decision to decriminalize magic mushrooms in 2019.
It will be several years before Coloradans have access to therapeutic psychedelics. Under Prop 122, Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies has until January 2024 to develop the licensing criteria and standards for the practitioners who would supervise those on psychedelics, with plans to accept license applications and create regulated access later in 2024.
Last month, 30 bipartisan elected officials signed an open letter opposing the measure. “[T]his ballot measure is not based on science and will prematurely unleash a new commercial industry, driven by out-of-state funders that are seeking to capitalize on increasing recreational drug use in Colorado,” they wrote.