On Tuesday night, the residents of Denver voted to decriminalize magic mushrooms in the city, according to multiple reports. Although psychedelic mushrooms remain illegal at the federal level, Denver is the first jurisdiction in America to decriminalize the possession of them, CBS News reports.
Under the terms of Initiative 301, which passed very narrowly on Tuesday, prosecuting adults for the possession of psilocybin mushrooms will become the lowest priority for Denver law enforcement. Additionally, city agencies will be prohibited from using any resources to impose criminal penalties on those who possess them. The new rules will only apply to Denver residents 21 years and older.
Under federal law, psychedelic mushrooms are a Schedule I substance, making them flatly illegal in all contexts. However, a limited but growing body of research suggests that psilocybin, one of the primary psychoactive components in mushrooms, can have legitimate medical benefits, specifically in therapeutic contexts.
In 2016, a Johns Hopkins study measured the effect of supervised psilocybin use on people with life-threatening illnesses and clinical depression or anxiety. The results, published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2016, found that supervised use of mushrooms led to reduced depression in 78% of participants and reduced anxiety in 83%. After six months of using them, the majority of patients had almost entirely overcome their depression or anxiety, the study found, and two-thirds of them ranked their use of mushrooms as one of the five most meaningful experiences in their lives.
In response to this and other studies that produced similar results, the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 granted psilocybin "Breakthrough Therapy" status, indicating that there's "preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the drug may demonstrate substantial improvement over available therapy," per the agency's website.
Denver isn't the only municipality seeking to lift barriers to psychedelic mushrooms. In April, activists in Oakland announced that they'd secured a sponsor on the City Council for a resolution that would prohibit local law officials from participating "in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the personal use and personal possession of" mushrooms and a few other psychedelic substances, Marijuana Moment reports. Statewide activists are attempting to place a similar proposition on California's ballot in 2020, while Oregon's secretary of state recently approved language for a ballot proposition that would decriminalize mushrooms for therapeutic use in the state.
Although initial reports predicted that Initiative 301 had failed, the measure pulled ahead overnight, and the unofficial results show it passing by less than 1%. According to CBS Denver, the Denver Election Division has eight days to certify the results, during which time it will tally any military or absentee ballots.
Nevertheless, activists celebrated the ballot measure's apparent passage on Wednesday.
“It’s been one hell of a 21-and-a-half hours,” Initiative 301 campaign manager Kevin Matthews said, according to the Denver Post. “If these results hold, this is an example of the absurd comedy of the great metaphor. Against all odds, we prevailed. This is what happens when a small team of dedicated and passionate people unite under a single idea to create change.”