Correction: 5/8/2019 at 9:45 p.m. ET: Turns out magic mushrooms really do sneak up on you! An earlier version of this story, citing preliminary results and media reports, stated that Measure 301 failed. In a twist that appears to have surprised most of the national media—and that did not occur until late Wednesday afternoon—Denver’s psilocybin mushroom decriminalization measure appears to have flipped its razor-thin margin and now appears to be headed towards a narrow victory.
According to the Denver Post, the measure was poised for failure by a 3.4-point margin as of 1:00 a.m. Wednesday. But “final unofficial results posted late in the afternoon showed a reversal of fortune — with Initiative 301 set to pass narrowly with 50.6 percent of the vote,” the Post wrote. “The total stands at 89,320 votes in favor and 87,341 against, a margin of 1,979.”
Military and overseas ballots remain to be counted, but are unlikely to flip the vote, the Post added.
We regret the error. Gizmodo’s original story follows below.
An ordinance to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver that the L.A. Times reported was “the first of its kind put to a vote in the nation” failed on Tuesday, with results showing it failed 48 to 52 percent.
Measure 301 would not have legalized the sale of magic mushrooms, as the entire state of Colorado did with marijuana following a vote in 2012, but “would have essentially prohibited local authorities from enforcing criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms for personal use,” according to the Times. It would have additionally created a task force to study what effects the ordinance had after two years.
Psilocybin is a Drug Enforcement Agency-classified Schedule I drug, meaning the agency considers it as a drug with no “accepted” medical uses and a high potential for abuse. This status has persisted for decades, largely due to sheer institutional inertia from a war on drugs that amped up under late President Richard Nixon (hmm) and has only recently started to lose any real momentum.
Proponents said the ordinance would have protected people who use the psychedelic mushrooms to help treat mental health issues like depression and addiction. Decriminalize Denver director Kevin Matthews told CNN that he credited psilocybin with “really saving my life” after he developed major depression and received a medical discharge from the United States Military Academy. He added that after friends introduced him to the mushrooms, “The positive effects lasted weeks and weeks and weeks. I had been feeling pretty isolated and alone and until then, couldn’t see the love all around me.”
The Drug Policy Alliance notes psilocybin is generally not considered to be an addictive substance, and a 2010 study in The Lancet found it to be the least socially harmful in the UK of 20 drugs. Regardless, for decades, research on the drug was largely stifled as a result of its scheduling status.
However, medical researchers (and much more slowly, the feds) have warmed to the possibility some hallucinogens pose exciting potential in psychiatry. Newer studies have suggested that psilocybin may be capable of promoting brain plasticity, which could help the brain repair its circuitry and function. The Food and Drug Administration last year fast-tracked trials to use psilocybin to treat depression, and other ongoing trials at various institutions are examining its potential uses for addiction, Alzheimer’s, and end-of-life anxiety.
That’s all part of a broader shift that saw the FDA approve a ketamine-like nasal spray to treat depression, as well as fast-track promising research into using MDMA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the New York Times, Matthews said his group had raised about $45,000 in funding and had not met with any significant public opposition. However, opponents included some of the usual suspects: law enforcement and social conservatives.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann opposed the measure, per USA Today, and seemed to signal that it was already not a major priority for law enforcement. Her office provided the paper with stats saying just 11 of 9,000 drug cases referred for possible prosecution from 2016 to 2018 involved psilocybin, and three of those were for intent to manufacture or distribute. (Total arrests in Denver over that time period tallied 59, according to the Times.)
“This is a psychedelic drug where you’re typically going to go into some type of trip that could last three to six hours,” Jeff Hunt, vice president of public policy for Colorado Christian University and director of the socially conservative (and anti-drug legalization) think tank The Centennial Institute, told Denver 7.
“... Denver is quickly becoming the illicit drug capital of the world,” Hunt added. “The truth is we have no idea what the long-term health effects of these drugs are going to do to the people of Colorado.”