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Colorado Psychedelics Decriminalization Takes Effect

Colorado voters last month decided to abolish criminal penalties for possession of psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin. Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued a proclamation on Tuesday declaring that Proposition 122, also known as the Natural Medicine Health Act, had passed muster with the voters in last month’s election. 

“Coloradans voted last November and participated in our democracy,” Polis said in a statement from the governor’s office. “Officially validating the results of the citizen and referred initiatives is the next formal step in our work to follow the will of the voters and implement these voter-approved measures.”

In his proclamation, Polis noted that Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold had certified on December 12 that Proposition 122 “was approved by a majority of the votes cast.” The ballot measure received more than 53% of the vote in the midterm election, garnering the approval of nearly 1.3 million voters on November 8.

Natural Medicine Health Act establishes a state-regulated therapeutic program for adults that provides access to natural psychoactive medicines such as mescaline, DMT, ibogaine, dimethyltryptamine and other psychedelic substances. This measure makes it illegal to possess, cultivate, or share naturally occurring psychedelic substances. It also establishes a controlled system of distribution that licensed professionals can use in therapeutic settings. 

The licensed facilitator will provide psychedelic therapy at the designated healing centres and other healthcare facilities like hospice centers. It is forbidden for the medicines to leave these facilities and it is prohibited that they be sold in any way.

“Prop. 122 puts the wellbeing of patients and communities first, removing harsh criminal penalties for personal possession and employing a multi-phase implementation process that will allow time to develop an appropriate safety and regulatory structure,” Josh Kappel, who co-authored the proposition and led the campaign for the successful ballot measure, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Colorado law states that ballot measures not approved by voters are ineligible for immediate effect. A proclamation stating that the majority voted for the proposal must be issued by the governor within 30 days of the results being canvassed. This is required under the state constitution. 

Psilocybin And Mental Health

Psilocybin and other psychedelics are gaining renewed attention because of their potential to treat depression, anxiety, substance abuse, as well as other mental disorders. The Food and Drug Administration has designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” but has not approved the use of the drug.

A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine recently showed that psilocybin is able to reduce treatment-resistant symptoms of depression. Prior research from the nation’s top medical research universities including Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, and New York University have shown positive patient outcomes for depression and anxiety. In clinical trials, VA has also begun to offer psychedelics as part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the Natural Medicine Health Act now officially Colorado state law, the governor has until January 31, 2023, to appoint 15 members to a new Natural Medicine Advisory Board, which will advise the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies on implementing the measure. The board’s first recommendations are due by September 30, 2023. On January 1, 2023, the board will submit its first recommendations regarding a program to train facilitators in the medical usage of psilocybin. Authorized therapists should be able to obtain regulated access to psilocybin by the end of 2024.

Kappel indicated that Proposition 122 could now be implemented with the Proclamation by Polis.

“Our goals include creating an accessible and balanced facilitator training system, an effective equity program, a first-of-its-kind ESG screen, and safe access to natural psychedelic therapies,” Kappel said. “In the meantime, adults in Colorado can begin to have more open and honest conversations about these medicines with their doctors. Adults who can benefit from these substances will finally be able to engage in psychedelic therapies without fear of arrest and prosecution.”