Psilocybin mushrooms are officially on the ballot.

In a history-making event, the Denver Elections Division certified that a group called Decriminalize Denver had gathered more than 5,000 signatures, enough to put psilocybin mushrooms — so-called magic mushrooms — on the May 7 Denver city ballot.

"I'm stoked. I'm ecstatic," said Kevin Matthews, campaign head. "We are certified." 

The vote will be one of the first times in American history when a city will ask itself whether to free an illegal drug — other than cannabis.

Mushrooms, once demonized as a hippie drug that can spin you out, have seen their reputation redeemed lately, and were this fall declared a "breakthrough" treatment for depression by the FDA — if used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Shrooms can also enhance creativity and connection to nature.

If voters approve, mushrooms will become decriminalized in the city of Denver — not the whole state. Decriminalized means you won't be legally able to buy or sell them. But cops and prosecutors will be directed to ignore shrooms: not to confiscate them at the Bluebird Theatre, not to write tickets for them if you're growing them in your home, not to put anyone in the back of a squad car if cops find them in your glove box.

Decriminalize Denver's effort was at least a year and a half in the making. It grew out of discussions at Denver's Psychedelic Club about how mushrooms aren't that different from cannabis, and should be decriminalized or legalized. The idea for a vote gained volunteer support, then political and legal support. Cannabis lawyers spent months drawing up the ballot language. 

Volunteers spent hundreds of hours in front of grocery stores, ice cream shops and coffee houses collecting signatures — often greeted enthusiastically.

[On the 16th Street Mall in Denver, volunteer Bryan Utesch was greeted often with wild enthusiasm.]

Mushrooms aren't popular, but about 20 million Americans have tried them, and while "bad trips" happen, many hundreds of thousands say shrooms changed their lives for the better.

"I can't say how many people out there want a platform where they can share their experience with mushrooms," Matthews said. "They've had these experiences they want to talk about, and now they get to vote on it."

Now, supporters of the little fungi will have the opportunity to put out yard signs, to talk to their friends about their experiences, to canvas door-to-door, and to donate money to a never-before-seen-campaign.

[Officials at the Denver Elections Division review the signatures from Decriminalize Denver. All photos by Reilly Capps.]

Decriminalize Denver collected 8,524 signatures, Matthews said. The city declared 5,559 of them valid; 4,726 were required.


"Our support in Denver has been overwhelming," Matthews said.

It's still a long shot that the initiative will pass. The only polling done on the issue put support around 40 percent. The initiative, of course, needs 50 percent support to pass.

Decriminalize Denver is planning a slew of events to convince voters that mushrooms have an upside, from a symposium on psilocybin in April to movie screenings of pro-psychedelic movies.

"We're working to change the hearts and minds of people who have been misinformed by the government over the last 50 years," Matthews said. "We have our work ahead of us."

Even if the measure fails, Matthews said he already considers the effort a victory.

"This is a successful, history-making thing," he said.

[Cover photo: Supporters of psilocybin mushrooms rallied at the Denver City and County building Jan 7 to turn in the signatures necessary for a city-wide vote on decriminalizing a fungus.]