By LINDSEY TOOMER
Now that Colorado voters passed the Natural Medicine Health Act, the state has several steps to get through before Colorado will actually see a regulated industry for psychedelic mushrooms.
The measure allows for licensed “healing centers” to provide access to psilocybin and psilocyn, the psychoactive compounds found in many species of fungi, for therapeutic purposes. It also decriminalizes the “personal use” of the substances, allowing people to possess and grow psychedelic mushrooms in their own homes.
The first step on the itinerary is developing an advisory board, which will include appointees from Gov. Jared Polis tasked with helping the Department of Regulatory Agencies implement the new program.
According to the act’s text, the board will include 15 members: At least seven are expected to have expertise and experience in topics including but not limited to natural medicine therapy and research, emergency medical services, health care insurance and policy, or harm reduction. At least eight members are expected to have experience with religious and traditional indigenous uses of natural medicines, issues impacting veterans, disparities in health care access, or criminal justice reform in Colorado.
“We will follow the will of the voters and will be appointing a 15 member advisory board to oversee the regulatory process around this new voter-approved measure,” Melissa Dworkin, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, said in an email.
Josh Kappel, an attorney who chaired Natural Medicine Colorado’s campaign committee and helped draft Proposition 122, said he trusts that the governor will appoint a board that’s inclusive of all relevant stakeholders. He said the board’s initial purpose is to provide DORA with recommendations around implementing the program.
“We are excited to work with all relevant stakeholders and the state government to implement Prop 122 in a safe, responsible and equitable manner that provides access to this much needed tool to address our state’s mental health crisis,” Kappel said.
After working with DORA to develop the program, the board will make annual recommendations regarding public health approaches for natural medicine, educational campaigns, research on efficacy and regulation, training programs, equitable and culturally responsible access, and data collection and reporting. Kappel added that the board will likely create regular reports analyzing the effectiveness of the program.
Advocates of the ballot measure point to research showing that psychedelic substances can be effective in treating depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions. The federal Food and Drug Administration has designated psilocybin as a “breakthrough therapy” for the treatment of major depressive disorder.
Coloradans can start applying for center licenses in September 2024
Ben Unger, who works with New Approach, an organization involved in passing both Oregon’s Measure 109 and Colorado’s Proposition 122, said in an email his greatest hope for the advisory board is that “it’s filled with experts that can guide a regulatory process that maximizes safety and promotes equitable access for all that can benefit.”
For initial appointments that need to be made by Jan. 31, 2023, seven members will be appointed to a two-year term while eight will be appointed to a four-year term. After that initial board, all members will be appointed to four-year terms and can serve two consecutive terms.
After appointees are named, the board will kick off an 18-month rulemaking process to develop regulations around facilitator licensing, training and the operation of healing centers, Kappel said. He said Natural Medicine Colorado will continue to be a resource for the state as it looks to implement Proposition 122 in a “responsible, equitable and safe manner.”
“We hope to be able to work with everyone — the government stakeholders, even those who opposed us — to help create a program that is both safe, but also provides the mental health treatment and options that Coloradans are expecting after passing Prop 122,” Kappel said.
Unger noted that the proposition language says Coloradans can start applying for healing center licenses in September 2024, meaning licensed therapeutic services would likely start six or seven months after that. Over the next year or so, he said interested stakeholders should keep their eyes open for development of regulations for facilitators and safety rules for clients.
“It’s reasonable to expect that services could begin in the summer of 2025,” Unger said in an email. “It’s important that the state work with experts to develop processes that promote safety while protecting access for people that can benefit.”