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Denver is the First U.S. City to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

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Denver is the First U.S. City to Decriminalize Psychedelic Mushrooms

At first, it looked like the Initiative 301 to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms would lose. But results flipped as yes votes rolled in.

It came down to the eleventh hour, but if unofficial election results hold, voters in Denver have just made history. Last night, the City of Denver became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. At first, it looked like the ballot initiative 301 was going to lose by a narrow margin. But last night, with the tallies still coming in, the results flipped, showing a narrow margin of victory for the decriminalization ordinance.

Currently, the total stands at 89,320 votes in favor of decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms, and 87,341 against. That’s just a 0.6 percent margin of victory, and it will take officials until May 16 to certify the results. But for now, Denver is a city where psilocybin just became law enforcement’s lowest priority.

Supporters of Psychedelic Mushroom Decriminalization Celebrate Come-from-Behind Win

“It’s been one hell of a 21 and a half hours,” said Initiative 301 campaign organizer Kevin Matthews. “Against all odds, we prevailed.”

Those who campaigned for and supported the effort to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms are celebrating the results of their work today. But initially, it looked like they were going to have to accept defeat. On Tuesday, multiple news outlets reported that Initiative 301 was down and out. At 1 a.m. Wednesday, the measure was still down 3.4 percent.

But overnight, officials counted several thousand votes in favor of the initiative. And by 4 p.m. Wednesday, yes votes had pulled ahead.

So what does Initiative 301 actually do? The letter of the ordinance directs Denver police to make enforcing laws against possessing psilocybin mushrooms their lowest priority. But psychedelic mushrooms would still be illegal to purchase, sell and even possess.

In many respects, Initiative 301 is similar to the marijuana decriminalization bills Denver passed in 2005 and 2007. Then, police still busted people for possessing marijuana—and still along racially disparate lines. But decriminalization was the first step toward the state’s eventual legalization of cannabis in 2012. Supporters hope a similar story will emerge from the passage of the decriminalization of mushrooms.

Is Denver a Sign of Shifting National Attitudes toward Psychedelics?

Denver is the first city—still unofficially—to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. And it was also the first city to try. This week’s vote represents the U.S.’s first vote on psilocybin, but it won’t be the last. Advocates in both Oregon and California are vying to get a similar measure on their state’s ballots in 2020. California came close in 2018, but the measure did not get enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

These efforts could be signs that public attitudes are shifting on the use of psychedelics. And those attitudes are shifting in line with renewed medical and scientific interest in psilocybin therapies.

Studies have found psilocybin to be a powerful treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD and for treating substance abuse and addiction, including alcoholism. And last fall, the U.S. FDA designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” due to its potential in these areas. That designation should speed of the development and review of psilocybin-based medicines.

“Our victory here is a clear signal to the rest of the country that we’re ready for a broader conversation around psilocybin and its potential benefits,” said Matthews.

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