Colorado Legalizes Psychedelics (With Limitations)
Prop 122 seeks to decriminalize natural psychedelics in Colorado. It’s a monumental move forward, but does it go far enough?
There were a lot of surprising elements this midterm, but most people were anticipating the legalization of psychedelics in Colorado. Proposition 122 passed by a narrow margin.
Colorado has been a state at the forefront of change regarding drugs. It was one of the first places to legalize marijuana in the US, and Denver was the first to decriminalize shrooms.
Prop. 122 seems like another major step forward. When Denver decriminalized psychedelics, a tsunami of others ensued after.
Can we expect the same for this? Let’s take an in-depth look at this historic move and its meaning.
Colorado Prop 122: What’s It All About?
The Natural Medicine Health Act (Proposition 122) addresses the criminalization of certain psychedelics. Namely, the following:
- Psilocybin-containing mushrooms
- Dimethyltryptamine (DMT)
- Mescaline (excluding mescaline from a peyote source)
These “natural psychedelic” sources — as the legislation puts it — are going to be legal in a therapeutic setting with a facilitator. While they are not legal for recreational use, they are now decriminalized with no explicit limit on possession.
For the citizens of Colorado, this means that while you can’t buy mushrooms in a store, you likely won’t have any legal troubles if you’re caught with them in your possession. While this is the biggest element of this new legislation, there are some other interesting components as well.
One of the elements of legalization often overlooked is how to treat people who have already served time for something the new legislation will render no longer illegal. Colorado has decided to answer this with the following language:
A person who has completed a sentence for a conviction … who would not have been guilty of an offense under this act had it been in effect at the time of the offense, may file a petition before the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction in the person’s case to seal the record of the conviction at no cost.
“Sealing” a record means the courts can see the record is there and petition to reopen the record if necessary. Without this petition, it is as though it does not exist.
Admission of Failure
One of the interesting parts of the official initiative is how it starts with an admonition about the current state of mental health. The groundwork for this legislation included the following:
- Colorado’s Current approach to mental health has failed to fulfill its promise. Coloradans deserve more tools to address mental health issues….
- Coloradans are experiencing problematic mental health issues, including but not limited to suicidality, addiction, depression, and anxiety
- An extensive and growing body of research is advancing to support the efficacy of natural medicines combined with psychotherapy…
These admissions are the first three points setting up the need for this law to pass, and it showcases the passion behind this mission. Later on, they also acknowledge the need to reduce the focus on criminalization with the following point:
Coloradans can better promote health and healing by reducing its focus on criminal punishments for persons who suffer mental health issues and by establishing regulated access to natural medicines through a humane, cost-effective, and responsible approach.
Limitations of Prop. 122
While this proposition is a milestone moment for legalization and decriminalization advocates, there are several areas it does not deliver on satisfactorily. Here are the three main examples of the problems with Prop. 122.
Sealing Records vs. Expunging Records
In my opinion, the biggest problem with this legislation revolves around the sealing of previous records. If the crime no longer applies, why would the government not expunge the records and enable the holder of the criminal record to go free from it?
Once you go to jail, your life is infinitely harder forever. Even if employers, housing authorities, and other background checkers can’t see why a record is there, seeing that one exists at all is enough to raise alarms.
Expungement is better than sealing a record because it’s a total deletion of the record as opposed to reversible sealing. There is no reason why a person who went to jail for possessing mushrooms should ever have this fact brought up again if it’s no longer a crime.
The argument to this point is often “it was a crime at the time when they did it and that matters.” To this, I would politely refute that it actually does not matter at all. If the government is taking steps to reverse the criminalization of mushrooms, I view this as an acknowledgment they should have never been illegal in the first place.
Limitations In Substances
The glorification of “natural” psychedelics over others is not uncommon, but it’s also not warranted. Some of the biggest advancements in psychedelic sciences right now revolve around MDMA — a substance that’s still illegal for practitioners to use despite being in phase IIIB trials for PTSD.
Another banned substance — LSD — technically comes from a natural source but the requirement for processing apparently takes away its ability to be legal. Not only this, LSD has been a topic of research for over 50 years thanks to its therapeutic benefits and is a very safe psychedelic.
This bill’s limitations on the substances it allows are nonsensical and perpetuate the problems it seeks to solve.
Decriminalization vs. Legalization
Decriminalization is a great way to make sure people aren’t continually getting locked up for possession of harmless substances, but it doesn’t quite go far enough. While it will no longer be a crime to possess certain substances, users outside of therapeutic settings will still have to find their drugs on the street.
In a world of legalization, the government can regulate these substances to ensure their purity and potency. This is not true for the world of decriminalization, which still leaves users to find their own substances from less than reputable sources.
This is further complicated by the prohibitive costs of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Consider a single mushroom trip which can take upwards of 6-8 hours — for a single therapeutic session that patients would have to pay for:
- Introductory sessions so the therapist can get to know you, your traumas, and what you’re looking to get from the experience.
- The price of the drugs — which would likely only be available from a single, expensive source.
- 1–2 therapists to be present for the entire 6-8 hour duration of your intoxication on the psilocybin.
- 1–2 integration sessions after the fact.
While I doubt, anyone would argue the benefit of having all these elements combined; the price tag can get quite high.
Suggested Reading: What’s the Difference Between Legalization & Decriminalization?
The Benefits of Psychedelics
Since this law revolved around the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs, we thought it would be pertinent to point out what some of those benefits are. Keep in mind there is still limited research into all these fields.
Psychedelics for PTSD
As mentioned above, the most prominent research for psychedelic therapy right now revolves around the use of MDMA for PTSD . MDMA is still illegal in Colorado, and the possibility of the results of MDMA not transferring to other psychedelics like mushrooms or DMT is still there.
Still, the research MAPS has completed in this realm has shown tremendous promise for the drug for this use. One study seems to believe psilocybin likely has similar efficacy to MDMA, but it’s still unknown at this time .
The argument for all psychedelics for the treatment of PTSD is a strong one. Anyone who has ever taken a psychedelic will testify to an increased ability to contemplate the terrifying events of life.
One problem concerns the fact that these dark elements only get darker the harder the past experience was. When dealing with PTSD, psychedelic-led therapy is often about confronting some of the worst experiences imaginable.
In these instances, having a trained clinical with you is nearly a necessity out of safety.
Psychedelics for Depression and Anxiety
This is where things start to get interesting: a recent research article observed drastic improvements in depression and anxiety after naturalistic psychedelic use . What does “naturalistic” mean?
In short — this survey asked people to answer questions about their drug use outside of a clinical setting. Over 2,500 adults reported at least one psychedelic use in their lifetime.
The results showed a decrease in depressive and anxious symptoms after psychedelic use . This means — even without the assistance of a therapist — psychedelics showed the potential to help.
While these findings are self-reported and signify only a starting point in understanding this potential, it’s promising nonetheless.
Psychedelics for Couples and Relationship Repair
This is one of the use cases relying mostly on anecdotal reports, but many have found peace in their relationship through psychedelics. As long as there is a restriction on psychedelic access, it’s unlikely this will receive much attention from researchers, but its potential is out there.
One study in 2011 discussed the ways MDMA could help with couples therapy, but this could likely apply to several psychedelics . Considering the emotional openness you typically experience on a psychedelic, this one seems pretty obvious.
What This Could Mean for the Rest of the Country
When Denver became the first city to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, it opened a floodgate for the rest of the country. It’s possible the same could happen with this, but it’s currently too early to tell.
Psychedelics have been moving forward for some time now, and this is an extension of the ongoing movement — not necessarily a catalyst. Hopefully, this will empower other states to make similar decisions and create a domino effect, eventually leading to total legalization.
However, it still seems like we are a long way off from this future. After all, we still can’t get weed legalized.
Suggested Reading: Which Countries Have Decriminalized Psychedelics?
Does Prop 122 Go Far Enough?
In short — no. Proposition 122 is a fantastic start, but it contains a number of holes keeping it from reaching its full potential. For starters, the restriction on which psychedelics the legislation includes leaves a lot of room for improvement.
There is no reason to exclude LSD from the list just because it requires lab equipment. Furthermore, the decision to decriminalize instead of legalize and the choice to seal records instead of expunging them are clear compromises.
No record of a legal activity should have a bearing on a person’s life — whether or not it was legal at the time. Anything short of legalization does little to address the problems of criminalization and the push of drug manufacturing below ground.
These shortcomings add up to a legislative move that didn’t reach its full potential. Does this shortcoming of the law mean there is no reason for excitement about it, though?
Celebrating Incremental Change
Any movement forward is a good thing, even if it’s not as far forward as we might like. While it’s a shame there are so many negatives about this new legislation, the simple fact of its existence alone is huge.
It’s an undeniable win for psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy to be legal in Colorado. It’s a great thing for ex-prisoners to find out the government will seal their records — even if expunging them would be better.
We can acknowledge and celebrate these movements forward while still recognizing they don’t go far enough.
Final Thoughts: Colorado Prop 122 & You
The legalization of psychedelic therapies and decriminalization of recreational use is a major move for Colorado and the United States as a whole. Whether or not this results in the tsunami of change we have come to expect from Denver’s decision to decriminalize psilocybin is yet unclear.
At this time, we are finally entering a phase where we look at the science behind a substance instead of fixating on our personal biases. Hopefully, this marks a small victory in a large movement.
Ultimately, I believe it’s up to each and every one of us to decide whether this is the case or not.
- Reiff, C. M., & McDonald, W. M. (2020). MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for the treatment of PTSD. Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, 43, 123-124.
- Daniel, J., & Haberman, M. (2017). Clinical potential of psilocybin as a treatment for mental health conditions. Mental Health Clinician, 7(1), 24-28.
- Raison, C. L., Jain, R., Penn, A. D., Cole, S. P., & Jain, S. (2022). Effects of Naturalistic Psychedelic Use on Depression, Anxiety, and Well-Being: Associations With Patterns of Use, Reported Harms, and Transformative Mental States. Frontiers in psychiatry, 232.
- Greer, G. R., & Tolbert, R. (1998). A method of conducting therapeutic sessions with MDMA. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 30(4), 371-379.