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Colorado Prop 122: A Transformative Measure Grounded in Equity and Healing

By Joshua Kappel and Tucker Wentz

Oct 11, 2022

Vicente Sederberg LLP is dedicated to advancing a dynamic, equitable, and responsible post-prohibition world. Whether it is backing medical cannabis in new states or creating pathways for access to psychedelic-assisted therapy, we have a duty to lend our voice to legal reforms that have the potential to create meaningful change in people’s lives and transform our society. It is through this work that we recognize how systemic inequities and the current power dynamics in our society have failed many communities, especially the Indigenous and those disproportionately hurt by the war on drugs. Thus, as we foster the emergence of new industries and communities in this post-prohibition world, we must remain committed to weaving the threads of equity, healing, and reciprocity in the fabrics of any proposed policy initiative. With these considerations in mind, we are proud to stand with Natural Medicine Colorado and support Proposition 122.

The Natural Medicine Health Act (NMHA or Prop 122) creates a transformative model where adults can obtain healing from natural psychedelic medicines at a licensed healing center under the supervision of a licensed facilitator. There are no sales of natural medicine permitted for off-site use. Research from John Hopkins, NYU, and UCLA has shown that psychedelic-assisted therapy has been effective in reducing PTSD, anxiety, hopelessness, and major depressive disorder. Considering Colorado ranks as one of the worst states for mental health, the time is now to create safe access to these healing possibilities.

This measure not only provides safe access to natural psychedelic medicines but does so in a way that is grounded in equity and conscious capitalism while also protecting legacy communities and existing medicine keepers. This focus on equity and conscious capitalism comes from one of the many lessons we learned as we shaped Colorado’s early cannabis industry.  

Lessons from Cannabis

The cannabis industry in Colorado started with decriminalization first. This decriminalization period led to thousands of businesses popping up with the local media calling it the “wild west.” Some of these companies truly focused on helping patients, but several were only focused on how much short-term profits they could extract from the community. Only a few of these early businesses in this decrim era of cannabis were focused on equity. The Natural Medicine Health Act sets a framework that puts equity first, not decriminalization and unchecked capitalism. 

Expert and Community-Led Policy

In the details of this regulated access model, we see the NMHA's commitment to doing things differently. This begins with the Natural Medicine Advisory Board, a fifteen-member panel with experience ranging from health equity, drug policy reform, medicine, and emergency medical services, to natural medicine therapy, mycology and cultivation, and traditional Indigenous use of natural medicines. The only reserved spot on the board is for someone from the Indigenous natural medicine community. The mandate of the board is a high one. Among other things, the board must make recommendations ensuring affordable and culturally responsible access to psychedelic therapies, analyzing insurance access, ensuring equitable ownership amongst healing centers, and ensuring facilitator training programs balance safety and inclusivity.

Creating an Equitable Model, Not a Capitalist One

This commitment to an equitable program is evidenced by the regulatory mandate to support both equitable access to psychedelic therapy and equitable ownership of healing centers and facilitator licenses. The equity provisions focus on supporting individuals from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs, face barriers to access quality health care, veterans, and those with a traditional or Indigenous history with natural medicines. At a minimum, such regulations shall include reduced fees for qualified individuals to obtain a facilitator or healing center license, incentives for the provision of low-cost services to low-income individuals, policies to promote and incentivize geographic and cultural diversity in licensing, and an annual report analyzing the effectiveness of these measures.

These policies will not just be words on paper. A regulated access fund should financially support the policies—creating a funded equity program from day one. There is also a medical insurance mandate for those covered under the Colorado Medical Assistance Act to not be denied coverage solely because natural psychedelic medicines are involved.

Prop 122 also focuses on minimizing the harms of unchecked capitalism. The measure includes a requirement that regulators mandate good business practices by any company seeking licensure. A business practices screening process will ensure only companies with sound environmental, social, and governance business practices are permitted. The rulemaking will determine the ESG screen’s content and strength. Additionally, there is a prohibition on any individual having a financial interest in more than five healing centers. These are essential provisions to mitigate against the race to the bottom, profit-first monopolies we see in so many industries.

Protecting Practitioners and Participants

Beyond the provisions of Prop 122, which create the regulatory framework for safe access to natural psychedelic medicines, another key important component is its protection of Indigenous and traditional medicine stewards in Colorado through decriminalizing the personal use of natural psychedelic medicines. While sales of natural medicines will remain prohibited, this provision provides for the non-commercial possession, use, cultivation, and social sharing of these medicines. This community access model is necessary for many people whose cultural lineages will not fit within the regulated therapeutic system. While natural medicines make up a small percentage of Colorado arrests, this provision will keep some of Colorado's individuals out of the criminal justice system while protecting the rights of people who have been engaged in natural medicines since long before a ballot measure was thought possible.

In addition to the provisions above which provide access to natural psychedelic medicines and the removal of criminal risks, the measure also provides civil protections for those who participate in the program. This includes protecting individual professional licenses, as well as prohibiting the use of natural psychedelic medicines from being used against parents seeking custody of their children, people on probation or parolees, a person seeking access to healthcare such as organ transplants, and any other types of public assistance (except where prohibited by federal law). It even goes a step further by allowing individuals who were convicted for an offense that would be legal under the measure to petition to have their records more easily sealed. These civil protections are essential for enabling access to natural psychedelic medicines and ensuring patients do not face discrimination for potentially life-saving medical treatment.

A Community-Driven Opportunity for Change

Although Prop 122 is the most comprehensive state-based psychedelic reform measure to date, it’s not perfect. The effectiveness of the equity provisions and this measure overall will not only depend on its passage, but will also depend on the community coming together to implement this measure around shared values. Ideally, this community would be led by those with deep knowledge of these medicines – the Indigenous, the medical researchers, and the existing psychedelic therapists. Yet, we will all need to assist these leaders to bring a safe and equitable natural psychedelic ecosystem to Colorado.

Proposition 122 presents not only an opportunity for Coloradans to become trailblazers for yet another category of plant medicines that should never have been criminalized in the first place, but also a chance to do so in a way that puts equity first and elevates the Indigenous and the underground therapists who have made our understanding of these plants possible.

We enthusiastically support Prop 122's passage and hope those who believe in the healing power of natural medicines will do the same.

Joshua Kappel is a founding partner of Vicente Sederberg LLP, chair of Natural Medicine Colorado, and one of the drafters of Prop 122. 

Tucker Wentz is a policy and licensing specialist at Vicente Sederberg LLP. 

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