Denver Becomes First City in Nation to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

Psychedelic mushrooms are seen at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands, in this 2007 file photo. (CREDIT: Peter Dejong/The Associated Press

Denver voters narrowly approved a measure decriminalizing hallucinogenic mushrooms, making the city the first municipality in the U.S. to do so.

Despite early results on Tuesday – the last day to vote in Denver’s elections – suggesting that voters rejected the decriminalization ordinance,  Initiated Ordinance 301, or the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative, was approved Tuesday by less than 2,000 votes, according to a final unofficial tally released Wednesday afternoon.

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.

Ordinance 301 does not legalize psilocybin mushrooms – commonly called “magic mushrooms” – but it makes the enforcement of psilocybin prohibition laws the city’s “lowest law-enforcement priority” and bars the city from imposing criminal penalties on adults found in possession of the drug. The initiative does not apply to the sale of the drug.

The measure also establishes a panel to analyze the public safety, fiscal and health impacts of decriminalizing the drug.

Denver is one of the most famously tolerant cities in the nation, with a track record of implementing exceptionally groundbreaking progressive legislation.

The ballot initiative builds  on previous efforts regarding drug ordinances. In 2005, the city became the first major city in the United States to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, seven years before Colorado became the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana.

Psilocybin remains a federal Schedule I drug. The federal government says Schedule I drugs have no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Marijuana is also classified as a Schedule I drug.

Proponents of Ordinance 301, including Decriminalize Denver, an organization that led the push to get the measure on the ballot, argue that psilocybin is generally safe and non-addictive, and can even be used to help treat addiction and depression.

Some medical research backs up the proponents’ claims. There is evidence that psilocybin is effective in treating depression and nicotine addiction, and researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study last fall recommending that psilocybin be reclassified as a Schedule IV drug, designated by the government as a drug with a low potential for abuse and a low risk of dependence.

Critics, meanwhile, are concerned that the decriminalization effort will attract more drug users to Denver and pose health and safety risks.

The initiative received endorsements from the Denver Green Party and the Libertarian Party of Colorado.

In January, Decriminalize Denver announced that it collected nearly 9,500 signatures, and turned in paperwork with the Denver Elections Division to get the initiative placed on the ballot.

A similar decriminalization measure may appear on the ballot in Oregon in 2020.

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