Voters in Denver, continued to lead the country in the arena of drug policy reform when they voted to make Denver the first city in the USA to effectively decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Ordinance 301, or the Denver Psilocybin Mushroom Initiative was approved by a narrow margin of 50.5% in favor and 49.4% against.[1]The ordinance does not overtly decriminalize psychedelics but outlines its goals to first deprioritize to the imposition of criminal penalties on adults 21 and older for the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms “to the greatest extent possible”,[2]and second to “prohibit the city and county of Denver from spending resources on imposing criminal penalties” on adults 21 and older who are using and possessing them.[3]

Oakland, California may follow suit, as a similar resolution was passed earlier this month. Oakland’s resolution, however, refers to all “entheogenic plants,” which includes not only mushrooms containing psilocybin, but also other plants and fungi containing psychoactive substances.[4]Much like Ordinance 301, Oakland’s decriminalization does not allow for the commercial sale or manufacturing of entheogenic plants, but it deprioritizes the investigation of growing, buying, distributing or possessing entheogenic plants, and prohibits the use of city funds to “assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults.”[5]

Psilocybin is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (the “DEA”) under the Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”).[6]In order for a substance to be included in Schedule I, the government must declare that such substance has no medicinal properties, it cannot be used safely under medical supervision, and  that there is a high possibility of its abuse.[7]In psilocybin’s case, this classification has been challenged by several academic studies. Notably, a 2018 research study on psilocybin from John Hopkin’s University showed that there was a low risk of abuse and a possibility of it being used therapeutically.[8]

Changing attitudes about schedule I drugs have led health care companies and likely soon to be other types of businesses to invest in formerly nonmainstream substances.  This challenging of traditional views on drugs like psilocybin is reflected the name of his investment fund, Schedule One Ventures.[9]Schedule One Ventures has allocated twenty percent (20%) of its capital to “Beyond Cannabis.” This initiative supports companies that aim to challenge the traditional view on other “schedule one” drugs similar to the way that early cannabis companies did.[10]

Until very recently, research on psychedelics has been severely impeded by their legal status for roughly half a century.[11]The small studies that have been conducted recently indicate that psilocybin could be highly effective in the treatment of depression and addiction.[12]These studies inspired the United States Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) to give psilocybin “breakthrough” status back in 2012.[13]“Breakthrough” status  is only given if preliminary clinical evidence indicates that the substance may be a significant improvement on available therapy, it also allows the drug to be expedited through its approval system.[14]This breakthrough status does not mean that FDA will approve psilocybin as a drug anytime soon, but it does mean that it  could potentially be prescribed for specific types of treatment resistant depression in controlled circumstances.[15]

So, is psilocybin still illegal? The answer is unfortunately: yes, at both the federal and state level across the country. Since psilocybin is listed as a Schedule I drug of the CSA, it is still illegal to cultivate or possess psilocybin for personal use or distribution. [16]The Colorado Attorney General is quoted saying that while Denver has a right to shift law enforcement priorities away from psilocybin “[a]s a matter of state and federal law…buying, selling, or possessing psychedelic mushrooms is still illegal.”[17]The main change both Denver and Oakland have made is in how law enforcement treat possession and use of psilocybin mushrooms. Arrests for this drug were already relatively rare in Denver, between 2016 and 2018, the Police Department arrested only 158 people for psilocybin. [18]

There have been parallels drawn between Ordinance 301 and Denver’s decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana possession in 2005.[19]It is too soon to tell if this ordinance will lead to the legalization of psilocybin, but the decriminalization of marijuana was a significant step in the path to its legalization. [20]

[1]https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/08/us/denver-magic-mushrooms-approved-trnd/index.html

[2]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bb4f9c27046803ce123a760/t/5c6360158165f54e1f1b090a/1550016533926/DPMDI.pdf

[3]Id.

[4]https://www.npr.org/2019/06/05/730061916/oakland-city-council-effectively-decriminalizes-psychedelic-mushrooms

[5]Id.

[6]https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/21cfr/cfr/1308/1308_11.htm

[7]https://www.drugs.com/article/csa-schedule-1.html

[8]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028390818302296?via%3Dihub

[9]https://scheduleone.ventures

[10]https://scheduleone.ventures

[11]https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/06/06/magic-mushrooms-should-be-decriminalised?frsc=dg%7Ce

[12]Id.

[13]https://www.inverse.com/article/50176-fda-okays-psilocybin-therapy-for-depression

[14]https://compasspathways.com/compass-pathways-receives-fda-breakthrough-therapy-designation-for-psilocybin-therapy-for-treatment-resistant-depression/

[15]https://www.inverse.com/article/50176-fda-okays-psilocybin-therapy-for-depression

[16]http://www.drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/are-psilocybin-mushrooms-illegal

[17]https://www.denverpost.com/2019/05/09/denver-magic-mushrooms-questions-answers/

[18]https://www.denverpost.com/2019/05/09/denver-magic-mushrooms-questions-answers/

[19]Id.

[20]Id.

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