What’s Next for Drug Policy Reform and Psychedelics in Colorado?

By Jonathan Cherkoss

Aug 30, 2021

With an eye towards the 2022 General Elections, the Psychedelic Club of Denver recently hosted a panel of drug policy experts and psychedelic advocates to discuss “Exploring Ways to End the Drug War.” The panel featured leading Colorado drug policy experts, including Art Way of Equitable Consulting, Matthew Duffy of S.P.O.R.E., Kevin Matthews of Vote Nature, Caroline S. Conzelman, Ph.D. of the University of Colorado Boulder, Veronica Lightning Horse of The Healing Ground, and Joey Gallagher of the Psychedelic Club.

The panelists discussed multiple approaches to restorative justice and ending the War on Drugs, and it was clear the panelists all agreed that the most effective way to address the War on Drugs—and fundamentally alter policing in the United States—is through community-level education and grassroots organizing. To change the status quo, advocates need to engage with and educate the public about the broad applicability of psychedelic medicines, and research is critical to address decades of propaganda and misinformation.

Looking Back at Oregon’s Road Map to Decriminalization

In 2020, Oregon voters passed two of the nation’s most sweeping drug policy reform measures in our nation’s history: Oregon Measures 109 and 110. Oregon Measure 109, Psilocybin Mushroom Services Program Initiative, authorized a state licensing regime that will allow service providers to administer psilocybin-producing mushroom and fungi products to adults over 21 years of age, while Oregon Measure 110, Drug Decriminalization and Addiction Treatment Initiative, is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive decriminalization initiative that removes criminal penalties for personal/non-commercial drug possession offenses. Though Measure 110 removes criminal penalties, violators are still subject to fines or may choose to engage in a health assessment through addiction recovery centers. Measure 110 also created the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund that will be funded by marijuana tax dollars and state savings.

The passage of these two comprehensive drug reform initiatives in Oregon has energized grassroots drug reform organizers and groups in Colorado and across the country.

Next Steps for Drug Reform and Psychedelics in Colorado

Given Colorado’s recent electoral history, the Centennial State is a prime candidate for psychedelics reform and decriminalization at the ballot box. Given posturing by both parties as supporters of “law and order,” it will be interesting to see what the electoral map for psychedelic reform and general decriminalization looks like.

Historically speaking, the incumbent’s party does not perform well during mid-term elections. While the 2018 and 2020 elections saw record voter turnout across the country, will the 2022 mid-terms draw the young and progressive voters necessary to pass comprehensive drug reform? Without these voters, is it possible for comprehensive drug reform to be successful at the ballot box?

One thing is certain: A statewide ballot measure in Colorado will require substantial financial commitments from national and statewide donors to succeed. Supporters will need to gather over 124,000 signatures in order to qualify through a statewide initiative. While it is still too early to make any meaningful predictions, national organizations in the sphere should keep a close eye on Colorado and the grassroots organizing already taking place. Major supporters of Oregon’s reform measures are surely planning their next moves carefully.

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