The already booming industry is proof, shrooms are the next frontier

The already booming industry is proof, shrooms are the next frontier

VicesJune 03, 2019 By Reilly Capps

Sobriety is great, and advisable most of the time. But drugs are valuable, too. 

Back in the day, when weed wasn’t yet a legal medicine, people supplied the multi-billion-dollar demand by growing, bagging, shipping and selling black market pot. Many careers ended with fat beach houses and well-fed children. Others in prison. 

At the same time, many companies flourished without risk by not actually touching the plant. They sold lights, soil and fertilizer, pipes, rolling papers, magazines and grow guides. Hands stayed clean of sticky cannabis residue. Taxes were paid. CEOs retired and played golf. 

Now, shrooms are moving into where pot used to live.

Last month, Denverites made world history by voting to make psilocybin magic mushrooms the “lowest law-enforcement priority.” To be clear, shrooms are nowhere as legal as weed. But cops and the District Attorney’s Office won’t spend any resources prosecuting anyone for them, as long as they’re over 21 and not selling. Meaning: No one in Denver is to get a ticket for using or growing shrooms, let alone go to jail. 

This thrills black market dealers, who are now advertising on Craigslist. 

But in the days after Initiative 301 passed, two dozen people and organizations began figuring out how to take advantage of the new law — legitimately. These groups want to follow the example of the weed companies who don’t “touch the plant.” They plan to help folks grow their own mushrooms and use them well — possibly curing cluster headaches, treat end-of-life anxiety, do psychedelic therapy and overall have a good time. 

These groups are the beginning of a nationwide mushroom culture. (Even though mushrooms are not as popular as weed, not by a factor of ten.) They’ll probably never be as lucrative. But in high doses, they’re ten times more powerful.

And how valuable is that? 

A MASTER CLASS 

On a recent Sunday in a kitchen in Denver, Travis Tyler Fluck, 39, the field organizer for Initiative 301, asked what I wanted to pay for his mushroom growing class. 

“A hundred dollars?” I offered. 

“Pay what you want,” Fluck said. “See how much you think it’s worth after we’re done.” 

Fluck, a jam-band lover, has a single braid on the left side of his head and speaks so softly that, in a large group of people, he raises his hand when he wants to say something. But Fluck was one of the loudest, clearest voices for decriminalization. He has adored mushrooms since he was 15, and kept loving them even after he went to jail in 2002, in part, for growing them. 

He figures Denver’s new law will spur countless home grows. And Fluck, along with his wife Hope Mellinger (and a few others surrounding the mushroom campaign), are starting what they call the Denver Mushroom Cooperative. It plans to teach classes like this one, sell grow supplies, consult on grow rooms, advise on set and setting, and help everyone come back to reality after a big trip. All without touching any psychedelic mushrooms.

“When [the initiative] talks about selling, it’s talking about selling psilocybin for remuneration,” Fluck says. “But I can sell rye berries, sterilized, in a bag, because you can grow a million other mushrooms on it. It’s not just for psilocybin.” 

Magic mushrooms spores are not technically illegal. But, just to be sure we were following state and federal laws, as well as local ones, Fluck taught me the class using spores for the bitter oyster mushroom — which won’t get you high, but do glow in the dark (really).

Mushrooms can be fickle little creatures. Breathing life into them requires operating-room cleanliness, the steady hand of a surgeon, and a little luck. I’ve failed at growing them before, and I was disappointed.

So I was happy when Fluck showed me cheats: how to rotate the needle, how to use a flow hood, how to touch the tape without contaminating it. It was like a cooking class from a master chef.

All the skills from bitter oyster mushrooms can be used to grow psilocybin. With Fluck’s class, plus maybe $200 in materials, including magic mushroom spores you can buy online, you should be able to grow enough at home to last 10 years.

I decided the class was worth $150. I Venmo’d Fluck the balance. 

HISTORICAL PRECEDENT 

If there are going to be more businesses like the Denver Mushroom Cooperative, the city government has to let them blossom even though it does have the power to ignore voters and clamp down on shrooms. 

Weed gives an example. When cannabis was first decriminalized in Denver, city and state officials — from then-Mayor John Hickenlooper to then-City Councilman Michael Hancock — said they’d keep enforcing state and federal law. “Annual citations for possession actually increased over the year or two that followed,” Mason Tvert, one of the people most responsible for weed legalization, says in an email. 

The crackdown irked voters. Rightly so. Then in 2012, Colorado voted to fully legalize pot, rebuking Hickenlooper and Hancock. The state has never really looked back. 

MUSHROOMS ARE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT 

As of press time, Hancock and Jamie Giellis are still in a runoff to become mayor, with results announcing June 4. Both have gone on record saying they will listen to the voters and leave mushrooms alone.

The city learned some lessons from the missteps with cannabis, says Ryan S. Luby, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office. This time, the city will turn a blind eye to state and federal law and tell Denver cops to put growing and possessing mushrooms for personal use on the back burner. “Even beyond the back burner,” Luby adds. Denver Police also said in a statement to Rooster it would listen to the office’s advice, too. 

Some details still need to be defined. “If you have three truckloads on your person,” Luby asks, rhetorically, “is that personal possession? … Your guess is as good as mine. … There’s a darn good likelihood a lot of this will end up in court.” 

SEEING AN OPENING 

I spoke to lots of folks considering taking advantage of the law. Again: you can’t sell mushrooms. So they’re mostly considering helping people use their own. A few ideas I found: 

*Mushrooms are said to treat cluster headaches, a severe migraine. A non-profit, Clusterbusters, said it would consider holding monthly trip-ins in Denver, BYOM (bring your own mushrooms). “Our next conference in Denver could be very interesting,” said Bob Wold, the leader of Clusterbusters. 

*Mushrooms have been studied to ease the fear of dying. And under a federal law called Right to Try, people with life-threatening illnesses could use psilocybin, the active ingredient, in therapy. These trips could be fully legally protected — not just under Denver law, but state and federal, too. A counseling service, Enduring Love, said it plans to counsel patients on whether they qualify for Right to Try, and maybe facilitate tripping sessions in Denver. 

*Mushrooms might help with plain old depression, anxiety and addiction. And they’re, you know, fun. Right now in Colorado, people are doing mushroom trips underground, illegally. I reached out to five psychedelic facilitators I know who use mushrooms. None had plans to come out into the open in Denver just yet. They want to see how decriminalization shakes out. But all hoped their Denver clients would feel freer to tell friends about their good trips. 

And at least one psychedelic therapy outfit does plan to work above ground. David Nikzad, head of a company called Orthogonal Thinkers, says he is working with a Denver doctor who will sit with clients while they have a safe and happy trip — legally. Nikzad, a tech entrepreneur who lives in Hawaii, says the business of healing people with psychedelics and other novel medicines will be “bigger than anybody knows.” Adds Nikzad, “We look at this as a trillion dollar business.” 

Travis Tyler Fluck’s mushroom cooperative has not yet earned a trillion dollars, or even $10,000. So far they’ve earned only $150. My $150. But they aren’t going to jail for the transaction, either.

The cooperative is looking for members, and a grant to rent or buy a physical space. They’re planning their first meeting for sometime this month. 

Mushroom lovers tend toward idealism, and these are giddy times for them. “We’re starting from the mushroom,” Hope Mellinger says. “The people [who know what to do with mushrooms] are out there, and if we connect with them, we can make this a better, brighter place.” 

They may never be the multi-billion-dollar industry weed is. But Mellinger believes mushrooms can be more life-changing. And if they flourish, and lead to better trips, when you think about growing them not as growing money, but as growing medicine, it’s far more valuable than any pile of cash.