Mid term elections came and went, and they certainly changed the landscape in terms of drugs. Not only did Maryland and Missouri pass cannabis legalization measures for recreational use; Colorado also made a big move when it became the second state to legalize psychedelics by allowing entheogenic plants. What does this mean for the state?
How did the vote go?
Mid term elections aren’t always exciting, particularly because they’re not for presidential candidates. But that doesn’t mean exciting things can’t happen, and Colorado is a great example of this. This year, while five states allowed residents to vote on recreational cannabis legalization measures, Colorado did it a bit more like Oregon, putting it to their people to choose if they wanted to legalize some psychedelics.
And the people said yes! Coloradoans had Proposition 122 put before them, the Decriminalization and Regulated Access Program for Certain Psychedelic Plants and Fungi Initiative. The winning yes vote came from a massive 91.46% of the voting population (you read that right), which was comprised of 1,296,994 votes. The no end accounted for a mere 8.54% of the voting population, with 121,111 votes. To say Colorado really wanted legal psychedelics, is practically an understatement.
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So what does this Proposition 122 do? The newly passed Colorado measure works to define specific plants containing psychedelics, as natural medicines. These include dimethyltryptamine (DMT); ibogaine; mescaline (but not the peyote plant, which is technically already covered federally under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, while the other mescaline-containing plants were never federally illegalized, making for a loophole); and psilocybin; and psilocyn, the compounds found in magic mushrooms.
It also decriminalizes the personal possession, use, transport, and cultivation of these plants, so long as the person is 21 or older. Along with this, it creates the Regulated Natural Medicine Access Program which will be used to open an industry of licensed healing centers where such medications can be administered as a part of natural medicine services.
How does this differ from Oregon?
Colorado is not the 1st state to pass a law to legalize psychedelics. In fact, its technically the 2nd state to pass a recreational legalization, and the 3rd state to offer some form of access measure. The most well-known, is the first to do it, Oregon. In the 2020 elections, Oregon also put it to its people to decide if they wanted to specifically legalize psilocybin mushrooms.
In November 2020, 55.75% of the voting population gave a yes vote to Measure 109: Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative. That equaled 1,270,057 votes. 44.25% of the voting population voted no to the measure, comprised of 1,008,199 votes. This measure came with far less specifics than the Colorado measure, and there was uncertainty for many months over what kind of a legalization it was, and if it counted more as medical. In 2022, Oregon released its first draft rules for the industry, making a few things clear.
According to these rules, not only does this only relate to magic mushrooms, but only one kind of magic mushroom applies: Psilocybe cubensis. Meaning once its not this particular magic mushroom, the legalization no longer holds. But it also doesn’t apply to some other important things. Like personal possession, or the ability to self-cultivate the mushrooms. Oregon only went as far as to legalize use of the mushrooms in approved centers, under the eye of trained, but not medical, tripsitters. Everything outside of this specific scenario, is not legal.
Colorado and its move to legalize psychedelics is much wider-reaching. It involves many different plants with psychedelic compounds, it allows the personal possession of the plants, and the personal cultivation of them. Though it will set up centers for use, it doesn’t disallow the personal use of the substances outside of this. As it relates specifically to plants containing psychedelic compounds, it excludes psychedelics like LSD and MDMA, which are synthetically-made, and do not appear in nature.
But didn’t Colorado already legalize MDMA?
Yes, Colorado has been on a rampage. Not only was Denver the first city in the US to pass a decriminalization measure for psychedelics in 2019, but in 2022, Colorado passed HB 1344, which was officially signed off on in June of this year, after essentially racing through the state’s congress at nearly unprecedented speeds.
HB 1344 is an interesting bill. It doesn’t exactly legalize MDMA, because it’s not federally legal yet. What it does is work as a pre-emptive legalization. As in, the second the US passes a federal legalization, Colorado is already ready to go with laws set up to govern the use of the drug in the state. This means, should it not get a federal pass, HB 1344 is useless. It goes into action only upon the federal passage.
How likely is this federal passage? Very likely. When the FDA gives ‘breakthrough therapy’ status to the medication a company is working on, a status meant to quicken a drug to market in the case of it being a new therapy that can offer benefits that existing therapies don’t offer; it means a government agency is literally pushing for it to happen. And such is the case for both MDMA and psilocybin on a federal level.
In the case of MDMA, the company leading the charge is MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies), which not only has this breakthrough therapy status, but which organized its Phase III trials directly with the FDA to ensure that results meet regulation. It would be short-sighted to believe that a legalization isn’t coming, especially considering how well the trials have been going for the treatment of PTSD.
But wait…Connecticut gives access to psychedelics too, right?
If you’re paying attention, I said Colorado is actually the 3rd state to pass some form of a legalization measure. Oregon was first, and as it turns out, Connecticut was second, though with a different kind of measure, which isn’t considered an outright legalization. It’s also strictly for medical use.
Connecticut passed Bill No. 5506, which actually makes use of an existent federal pilot program, that is unfortunately, not often accessed. The federal program is the FDA’s expanded access program, which allows the use of drugs that have not been approved yet and are still under investigation. The point of the program is to allow patients in dire need, to access medications that have made it at least through Phase I, with the thought being that dire circumstances allow for dire measures to be taken.
Connecticut’s bill really just accesses this program through its own pilot program, and is meant to begin in the state in 2023. Once the compounds it allows are officially approved by the federal government, the pilot program ends, and the new legalization measures take over. The Connecticut bill specifically allows for the access of yet-unapproved psilocybin and MDMA medications.
This pilot program will allow access solely on a medical level, which is different from both Oregon and Colorado. It comes with absolutely no recreational aspects, and does nothing to allow for personal possession, use, or cultivation. What it does do, is reinforce the usefulness of both psilocybin and MDMA in treating different disorders, and works to start getting access to these compounds, to patients in need.
The psychedelics boom is happening very quickly. Way more quickly than the cannabis boom, which realistically paved the way of the former. Had we not gotten the country acclimated to marijuana, it probably would’ve been harder to push for psychedelics. But with weed now legal in just about half the country, psychedelics are sliding by much faster, and more easily.
Besides the three states just mentioned which have some measure in place, there are plenty of other states that have been/are considering full-state legalizations (California, Washington, Michigan), and a multitude of locations that have decriminalized use. These include: San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Arcata, in California; as well as Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Detroit, in Michigan; Washington, DC; Somerville, Cambridge, Northampton, and Easthampton, Massachusetts; and Seattle, Washington.
Should we expect more? You better believe it. Which one will be next, and how long it may take, are undetermined, but the trend is in place, and we know from watching cannabis, that the snowball becomes an avalanche. States where legislation was recently introduced include New Jersey with its Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Act; California with its SB-519 to decriminalize several compounds and open facilitated use centers; Oklahoma which introduced HB 3414 to study psilocybin and give access to patients in need; and Hawaii, which passed SB No 3160 to create a task force to implement psilocybin medications for adults medically.
Colorado shows that the push to legalize psychedelics didn’t end with Oregon, and that we can expect way more. It also shows the progression already in motion for these laws, as it offers a much wider legalization than its predecessor. It will be interesting to see what happens next in this world.
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