Colorado Follows Oregon’s Lead
Election day was generally positive but sobering for the psychedelics world. A Colorado ballot initiative to decriminalize magic mushrooms and establish a framework for legal use passed with 53% of the vote, after polls suggested it might not make it. And in Oregon, which saw a similar statewide initiative pass in 2020, 25 counties and even more municipalities opted out, putting a pause or full stop to psilocybin service centers across much of the state. What should we make of this?
Regulating psychedelics. Colorado first. The proposition that passed follows the Oregon model for legalization: state authorities will regulate healing centers where licensed practitioners provide psilocybin to participants. An advisory board will solicit community input while preparing recommendations for the state health authority, which is to support the opening of the first healing centers in 2024. If you’re excited by what’s happening in Oregon, your reason for excitement just doubled.
But the Colorado campaign exposed deep rifts within the psychedelics movement. Grassroots organizers who played key roles in Denver’s groundbreaking ballot initiative to decriminalize psilocybin in 2019 came out against the measure. They claimed this regulatory approach favors well-healed players and companies looking for big profits, which will make the services prohibitively expensive for many who need them. They claimed that out of state money — over $4 million from New Approach, the group behind the Oregon law — drove the initiative, and that local activists weren’t listened to, though the proposition’s supporters disagreed.
How fast? Critics also proposed that it might be better to move toward legalization more slowly, so community groups can mature in order to hold space for the many new people now coming to the changing psychedelic landscape.
The Oregon vote suggests that those critics might be onto something. Twenty-seven Oregon counties and over 100 municipalities put initiatives on the ballot to block psilocybin service centers from operating in their area, which was set to start next year. Only two counties voted yes to keep them. Results like that highlight the need for education to address fears and build support in the neighborhoods where these service centers will ultimately operate. And that may take some time.
Oregon advocates point out that service centers are still welcome in 20 of the state’s most populated cities, as well as 11 counties. Over half of the state’s population of 4.27 million will have local access. We can hope that their future success will convince the regions that opted out to reconsider down the road. But a concerted education effort, along with deliberate community building, is key.
Effective communication. One of the two Oregon counties that did vote in favor was Jackson. The country includes Ashland, which since 2008 has been home to the first legal Santo Daime ayahuasca church in America. Perhaps that positive experience helped to influence the vote?
Silo Wellness intends to open a healing center on a 960-acre property outside of Ashland. Mike Arnold, the company’s founder, spoke at a county planning commission hearing and afterwards said, “The public process worked. Folks came in, we testified as to what the reality of a service center is.” Given all the misinformation propagated by the drug war over many decades, taking the time to communicate the reality of psychedelics feels like a smart move.
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