Denver holds 'magic mushroom' decriminalization vote

Henrietta Brewer
May 9, 2019

"I don't think that people should be criminalized or looked upon differently because they are required to take something that can make them feel this much better", one 54-year-old patient now using psilocybin mushrooms told CBS Denver.

Specifically, officials will now be barred from "spending resources to impose criminal penalties" for personal use and possession of the drug for residents over the age of 21. Legendary rock bands like the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers Band frequently used images of mushrooms in their logos, T-shirts and other paraphernalia. A number of other states have since broadly allowed marijuana sales and use by adults. The voters turned down a change in Denver law that would have required police to make arresting people for personal possession or use of psilocybin mushrooms "the lowest law enforcement priority in the City and County of Denver".

A California effort to decriminalize the use, possession, growth, sale and transportation of psilocybin failed to qualify for the statewide ballot in 2018.

It's the latest envelope-pushing drug policy considered in the progressive "Mile High" city, so named for its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, where citizens decriminalized marijuana possession back in 2005.


The federal government classifies psilocybin as a Schedule I drug, with no medical goal and a high potential for abuse.

Kevin Matthews, director of the Decriminalize Denver campaign, said psilocybin has helped him with depression for years. There has been little organized opposition.

Researchers warn it should only be used under medical supervision and can spark paranoia and anxiety.

The ballot measure, Initiated Ordinance 301, would also establish a panel to review the law's impact on public health and safety.


A similar vote failed to gain traction in California a year ago.

Matthews says he's optimistic about his initiative's chances, telling Reason that the yes side's canvassing efforts have encountered few die-hard opponents.

The Denver Elections division announced in February that the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Decriminalization Initiative submitted enough signatures for the question to be added to the Municipal Election ballot on May 7.

For instance, a 2017 study published in the journal Nature showed that 47% of patients experiencing treatment-resistant depression showed positive responses at five weeks after receiving a psilocybin treatments.


Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was one of the authors of a study past year recommending that the Food and Drug Administration reclassify the drug to acknowledge its potential medical uses and relatively low potential for abuse.

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