Pubdate: Thu, 09 May 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Patricia Mazzei


Voters in Denver, a city at the forefront of the widening national
debate over legalizing marijuana, have become the first in the nation
to effectively decriminalize another recreational drug: hallucinogenic

The local ballot measure did not quite legalize the mushrooms that
contain psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound. State
and federal regulations would have to change to accomplish that.

But the measure made the possession, use or cultivation of the
mushrooms by people aged 21 or older the lowest-priority crime for law
enforcement in the city of Denver and Denver County. Arrests and
prosecutions, already fairly rare, would all but disappear.

Results posted by the city as a "final unofficial" tally late on
Wednesday showed the "Yes" vote won by less than 2,000 ballots. The
"No" vote had led throughout the day, until the last updated count by
elections officials. Alton P. Dillard, the elections spokesman, said
the passage appeared safe, but the final results would not be
certified until May 16.

"We won!!!!" the group called Decriminalize Denver that had been
pushing the measure, said in a jubilant post on Facebook.

Adoption of the measure, by a margin so close that the measure was
initially thought to have been rejected, signaled fledgling public
acceptance of a mind-altering drug, outlawed nationally for nearly 50
years, that recent research suggests could have beneficial medical
uses. A similar effort failed to get on the ballot in California last
year, but it could come up again in 2020; Oregon voters may also vote
on a comparable measure next year.

"It's surreal," said Travis Tyler Fluck, a field organizer for the
campaign to pass the measure, suggesting that Denver had a sizable
population of "psychedelic constituents."

"People just don't see it as a threat," he added. "Compared to the
'sinister' LSD, magic mushrooms are tame."

Proponents of more lenient criminal enforcement of psilocybin cite
studies indicating that the drug can be beneficial for treating
depression and anxiety among cancer patients. Other studies have
identified potential uses in therapy for alcoholics and people trying
to quit smoking, and in treating depression in people who do not have

"Because psilocybin has such tremendous medical potential, there's no
reason individuals should be criminalized for using something that
grows naturally," said Kevin Matthews, the director of the
pro-mushrooms campaign.

Mr. Matthews, 33, credits psilocybin mushrooms with helping pull him
out of a major depression that forced him to withdraw from the United
States Military Academy at West Point, where he was a cadet for three
years in his 20s.

Dr. 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 last year recommending
that the Food and Drug Administration reclassify the drug to
acknowledge its potential medical uses and relatively low potential
for abuse.

Psilocybin is not addictive, and "there's no direct lethal overdose"
of the drug on record, Dr. Johnson said.

Researchers who study psilocybin's effects use a synthetic version of
the drug in carefully controlled environments, he said, which is
different from someone growing mushrooms and ingesting them at home.

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

In advance of the vote, Art Way, the Colorado state director for a
pro-legalization advocacy group, the Drug Policy Alliance, praised the
local effort in Denver to move psilocybin enforcement off the police's
radar. But he cautioned against tackling the issue piecemeal.

"Separating some drugs as good and some as bad will only stand to
perpetuate the drug war," he said.

Arrests in Denver for incidents involving psilocybin have not numbered
more than 59 in any of the last three years, and only 11 cases were
prosecuted in that time.

Beth McCann, the district attorney in Denver, opposed the ballot
measure, according to a spokeswoman, Carolyn A. Tyler.

"We're still in the very early stages of marijuana legalization, and
we are still learning the impact of that substance on our city," Ms.
Tyler said. "And she is not in favor of Denver being the only city
that doesn't enforce the law."

Mayor Michael Hancock was also against the proposal, his office said,
without elaborating on his reasoning. The Denver Police Department
declined to take a position.
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