Magic mushrooms are inching closer to the ballot in Denver, Colorado. Five advocates there, sponsoring a ballot initiative that would allow Denverites to vote this November on it, want to make mushrooms about as legal as cannabis and alcohol. And they're succeeding.
The campaign is called Denver for Psilocybin (psilocybin is the name of the drug inside mushrooms). They say psilocybin is, on balance, a good drug, like Tylenol or penicillin; not a bad drug, like heroin or meth.
"It's so much less dangerous than alcohol," says Devin Alvarez, one of the sponsors. "It can be confusing if you're not in the right set and setting. But you're not getting aggressive." He is also pledging to donate a portion of the sales from his CBD business, Straight Hemp, to the cause, one of three business people who've pledged money, the group says.
The group is having regular strategy meetings, have named a social media director and is consulting with policy advisors. They have named a field director responsible for coordinating the volunteers who will try to gather the 5,000 valid signatures they need.
"I'm like 99 percent sure it's going to be on the ballot," says Tyler Williams, the campaign's co-manager.
The details are still up in the air. Denver for Psilocybin is considering two options for the initiative:
Recreational — you basically couldn't get in trouble for growing or having mushrooms, as they would become the lowest law enforcement priority for cops.
Caregiver — you'd have to consult a caregiver who could help you navigate the dangers of mushrooms — for example, the risk of panic attacks during difficult trips — and maximize the benefits — by checking in with you every so often after your trips.
They'll decide which path to pursue in the next two weeks.
"Whether or not it passes," says Kevin Matthews, the campaign's other co-manager, "if we can get it on the ballot, we can start the conversation."
Mushrooms aren't terribly popular, but more than 20 million Americans have tried them.
And while lots of people tell stories of friends who were "fried" by mushrooms, and a report said 11 percent of bad trippers put themselves or others at risk of physical harm, and 2.7 percent got medical help, hundreds of scientific papers suggest mushrooms have huge upside.
They can cure migraines. In microdoses they help folks excel at work. They can even — believe it or not — wipe out your fear of death. And even among those who have "bad trips," most reported that it ended up being one of the most valuable experiences of their lives.
There isn't a huge reaction against this measure; calls to three anti-drug organizations went unreturned.
Many Denverites are excited by the possibility of legal shrooms. A psychotherapist named Garrett Hooper tells us he is interested in doing psychedelic therapy with mushrooms. And Sean Hall, who owns a contracting business, says, "You're gonna be left behind if you don't embrace this."
A legal psychedelic seems unthinkable, but it might be that mushrooms are having their moment. Oregon and California might also vote on legalization of mushrooms or psilocybin in 2018 or 2020, and Colorado as a state might vote on it in 2020. Medical trials of psilocybin are going on in Europe and America.
But because it's small, Denver has a chance to break ground here.
Far from the centers of power on the coasts, Denver has always been independent. And since weed was legalized in 2012, Denver has become more vibrant than ever, attracting ambitious young people who've helped make its economy one of the best in the country. Mushrooms advocates say they learned from the successful pot legalization campaigns, they know how to gather enough signatures, and legalizing mushrooms could keep the city's momentum going.
"The culture that's been brought into Denver since the marijuana thing has gone down, there's an air of marijuana helping things, making the city better," Alvarez says. "Progress marches on and this — mushrooms — is moving on."
If mushrooms go mainstream, it may be because of personal stories like the ones being told by organizers of the initiative, like Alvarez. Cannabis was legalized, note, after folks heard the stories of cancer patients and kids with seizures.
Alvarez, now 31, a former Air Force Academy cadet, says mushrooms helped cured a drinking problem that led to driving drunk, wrecking a car and getting a DUI. Three times, he ate about seven grams of mushrooms, and it changed him. "The urge to drink," Alvarez says, "was expelled."
Williams says mushrooms "definitely helped me deal with PTSD and my depressive disorder better than anything else I've tried, although I'm also doing that with therapy and EMDR."
Matthews, 32, says he had to drop out of the United States Military Academy at West Point due to depression, but that mushrooms helped him straighten himself out.
"This psilocybin initiative is aimed to help people fundamentally," Alvarez says. "I think this would help reduce conflict within ourselves and within the community. Start to generate this energy that will slowly roll across the nation."