Psychedelic mushrooms are considered a breakthrough treatment for anxiety and depression. They have been illegal under federal law since 1970. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Ten years after legalizing the use and sale of marijuana, Colorado became only the second state in the U.S. to legalize the use of psilocybin mushrooms.

The ballot measure, Proposition 122, squeaked across the finish line as ballots were tallied the day after Election Day, receiving 51% of the vote. 

Proponents called it a “truly historic moment.”

“Colorado voters saw the benefit of regulated access to natural medicines, including psilocybin, so people with PTSD, terminal illness, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can heal,” co-proponents, Kevin Matthews and Veronica Lightening Horse Perez said in emailed statement Wednesday evening.

Natural Medicine Colorado, which got Proposition 122 on the ballot, spent nearly $4.5 million to promote the measure. In contrast, the primary opposition, Protect Colorado’s Kids, raised about $51,000. 

The measure will allow people 21 and older to grow and share psychedelic mushrooms, as well as create state-regulated centers where people could make appointments to consume psilocybin, the hallucination-inducing compound derived from psychedelic mushrooms. It calls for licensed “healing centers” to give clients mushrooms in a supervised setting, but — unlike marijuana — does not include an option for retail sales. 

Once again, Colorado passed a drug measure that’s illegal under federal law. Psychedelic mushrooms became illegal in the U.S. in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. Even with Proposition 122’s passage, psilocybin remains federally classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, like heroin, for which there is no current medical use. 

Colorado became the first to legalize marijuana a decade ago, and is second only to Oregon in legalizing psilocybin.

Luke Niforatos, chairman of Protect Colorado’s Kids, said he was concerned as a parent and for Colorado’s public health. 

“We now need to have a very frank and public conversation about who is in charge of medicine,” he said. “This is now the second time our state has rejected the FDA process.”

Niforatos, who is also executive vice president of the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions, said Colorado has allowed “billionaires, startups and entrepreneurs” to take control of medicine in this state instead of “scientists, medical doctors and the FDA.”

Niforatos said that if opponents of the measure had been able to raise enough money to educate the public about the dangers of allowing the use of drugs with no regulated dosage amounts or prescriptions, Proposition 122 would have failed. 

“We can’t compete with $4 million from out of state,” he said, adding that proponents of the measure and the psilocybin industry will benefit from its passage while his side had no payoff to entice big-money donors. 

He’s also concerned that the opening of psychedelic healing centers and advertising of the drugs in cities across Colorado will normalize drug use among young people, leading to more teens using psilocybin. There is no opt-out provision in Prop 122 for cities and counties that do not want psychedelic healing centers, although cities and counties could enact rules about where the centers could open and their hours of operation.

Proposition 122 also will allow facilities to expand to three plant-based psychedelics in 2026. Those are ibogaine, from the root bark of an iboga tree; mescaline, which is from cacti; and dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a natural compound found in plants and animals. Mental health centers and substance abuse treatment clinics also could seek licenses to offer psychedelic treatment.

The natural medicines, used to treat anxiety and depression, are obtained now through friends who grow them or from underground “trip guides” who sit with clients during a psychedelic experience, then help them process afterward. 

Three years ago, Denver residents voted to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms, making possession a low priority for law enforcement. 

With the passage of Proposition 122, Gov. Jared Polis has until Jan. 31 to appoint 15 members to the National Medicine Advisory Board, which will report to the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. 

The board’s first recommendations are due by Sept. 30, and regulated access to psilocybin would become available in late 2024. Then by June 2026, the state Department of Regulatory Agencies could expand access to the three other plant-based psychedelics.

Jen is a co-founder and reporter at The Sun, where she writes about mental health, child welfare and social justice issues. Her first journalism job was at The Hungry Horse News in her home state of...