Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Late votes lead to surprise passage of Denver's initiative to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms

Despite early vote counts suggesting a close defeat of a Denver initiative to decriminalize hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms, the final vote count showed that the initiative squeaked out a victory.  This local article, headlined  "Denver first in U.S. to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms," provides the details:

Denver is poised to become the first city in the nation to effectively decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms.

After closing an early vote deficit Tuesday night and early Wednesday, final unofficial results posted late in the afternoon showed a reversal of fortune — with Initiative 301 set to pass narrowly with 50.6 percent of the vote. The total stands at 89,320 votes in favor and 87,341 against, a margin of 1,979. The Denver Elections Division will continue accepting military and overseas ballots, but typically those numbers are small. Results will be certified May 16....

Denver’s vote has attracted national attention. While efforts are afoot to get psilocybin-related measures on the ballot in Oregon and California in 2020, Denver hosted the first-ever U.S. popular vote on the matter, according to organizers. An earlier effort in California last year failed to qualify for the ballot.

Though Initiative 301 attracted no organized opposition, critics of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana lamented the prospect of Denver blazing yet another trail they see as misguided and potentially harmful. The measure essentially tells police to look the other way on adult psilocybin use....

Supporters extolled emerging research showing potential health benefits with psychedelic mushrooms. The measure likely was put over the top by younger voters, who tend to cast their ballots closer to or on Election Day, even though all registered voters receive their ballots in the mail about three weeks earlier.

Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin “breakthrough therapy” designation for its potential to help with treatment-resistant depression, a status that speeds up the development and review process for a medicine containing the substance.

As written, I-301 directs police via ordinance to treat enforcement of laws against possession of psilocybin mushrooms as their lowest priority.

It’s similar to decriminalization measures approved by Denver voters for marijuana years before Colorado’s Amendment 64 won statewide approval....

Psychedelic mushrooms still would remain illegal to buy, sell or possess, with the latter crime a felony that carries a potential punishment of up to a year in prison and a fine. But Initiative 301 backers hope to lower the risk users face of getting caught with mushrooms.

Past marijuana efforts are instructive, though. Denver voters signed off on decriminalization measures in 2005 and 2007, but that didn’t stop police from enforcing the law — though drug law-liberalization advocates say the public discussion prompted by the ballot initiatives helped pave the way for statewide legalization in 2012.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2019/05/late-votes-lead-to-surprise-passage-of-denvers-initiative-to-decriminalize-psychedelic-mushrooms.html

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