Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law on May 23 that established a regulatory framework for psychedelic substances.
SB23-290, also called Natural Medicine Regulation and Legalization, was signed just a few weeks after it was approved in the Senate with House amendments. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steven Fenberg and Rep. Judy Amabile, and is set to take effect starting on July 1.
The Colorado Times Recorder spoke with Tasia Poinsatte, director of the Healing Advocacy Fund of Colorado, last month about the bill’s potential. “Our state is facing a mental health crisis, and our current system has been unable to meet the needs of those who are struggling, including the many veterans in our state who are at a high risk of suicide,” said Poinsatte. “Colorado voters agreed with the passage of Prop. 122 that we need to open new, innovative pathways to healing for those who are struggling with mental health conditions.”
The law doesn’t place limitations on personal possession for any psychedelic substance, ranging from dimethyltryptamine (DMT), mescaline, ibogaine, psilocybin, or psilocin. Psilocybin and psilocin will be administered at “healing centers,” but it does allow other substances to be added later.
The bill also states that anyone under 21 who possesses or consumes a natural medicine product will only be subject to a fine of $100 or less, and a maximum of four hours of “substance use education or counseling.” More than one offense results in the same fine and education requirement, with an added 24 hours of “useful public service.”
The cultivation of natural medicine is permitted if it’s happening on a person’s private property within a 12-by-12-foot space. However, anyone who is not licensed and “knowingly manufactures [a] natural medicine product using an inherently hazardous substance” is committing a level 2 drug felony. An “inherently hazardous substance” refers to solvents such as butane, propane, and diethyl ether.
The bill also includes protections for consumers, stating that a person using a natural medicine doesn’t solely constitute as child abuse or neglect, is not grounds for being denied health coverage, doesn’t disqualify a person to be discriminated against if they’re eligible for organ donation, and “must not be considered for public assistance benefits eligibility.”
A person with a natural medicine conviction is also eligible to have the conviction record sealed “immediately after the later date of final disposition or release from supervision.”
The bill calls for the creation of a natural medicine advisory board to examine “issues related to natural medicine and natural medicine product, and making recommendations to the director of the division of professions and occupations and the executive director of the state licensing authority.” It also requires the creation of a division of natural medicine to be established within the department of revenue to regulate licensing for “cultivation, manufacturing, testing, storage, distribution, transport, transfer, and dispensation of natural medicine or natural medicine product between natural medicine licensees.”
Colorado voters passed Proposition 122, also referred to as the Natural Medicine Health Act, by 52.64% last November to decriminalize psychedelics. “This is a historic moment for both the people of Colorado and our country,” said Natural Medicine Colorado coalition director Kevin Matthews. “I think this demonstrates that voters here in Colorado are ready for new options and another choice for healing, especially when it comes to their mental and behavioral health.”
The initiative took effect in December 2022. “Coloradans voted last November and participated in our democracy,” said Polis. “Officially validating the results of the citizen and referred initiatives is the next formal step in our work to follow the will of the voters and implement these voter-approved measures.”
Coverage from Westword shows that advocates aren’t happy with the law, stating that it’s too restrictive. According to sponsor Amabile, the bill is solid but won’t make everyone happy. “My takeaway from the testimony is that ballot measure 122 is controversial,” Amabile said at a meeting in late April. “It has a lot of aspects that some people like. It has aspects that the people who like some parts of it don’t like. It has parts that nobody likes.”
Colorado is getting it done, and getting it done fast. A bill just passed through both sides of the Colorado Congress, with regulation measures in accordance with the voted-in psychedelics legalization last fall. Now awaiting sign-off by the governor, this bill is the first one to get the new industry rolling. Read on for details.
It often takes a bill a lot of time to pass congress, whether in a state legislature, or federal. In the case of Colorado’s SB23-290, this bill is moving at record speed. As the legislative session ends on May 6th, the goal was to get it passed before that deadline.
Entitled the Natural Medicine Regulation And Legalization bill, it passed both sides of Congress last month. Since the House made amendments, these amendments had to be approved by the Senate. It approved them on Tuesday May 2nd, in a vote of 32-3. Then the Senate went on to vote a final time on the final write-up, and approved it 24-11. The only thing left is for Governor Jared Polis to sign it into law.
The bill was only introduced a few weeks ago (April 18th), by Senate President Steve Fenberg. Meaning it went through all of Congress in far less than one month. When the voter ballot passed last year to legalize use of psychedelics, it included a measure to create an advisory board to give recommendations for regulatory laws. Though this might still happen, this bill was offered with no such advisory board in existence.
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The bill filed by Fenberg contains some provisions that are different from the voted-in measure. The advisory board was meant to help create legislation with a greater lean toward holistic healing. As of right now, anything established, was established without that input.
What to expect for Colorado psychedelics regulation
There’s not much reason to expect the governor won’t sign off (though its not impossible). Assuming he follows through on his end, and the bill stands, we now have information on how Colorado will govern its psychedelics industry, and with what kind of regulation attached. Here are some of the key points, some of which do wander from the original ideas of the vote:
Personal Use and cultivation
No limits for personal possession of psilocybin, psilocyn, non-peyote mescaline, ibogaine, and DMT. This is in concert with the original voted-in measure.
A $100 fine for public consumption offenses.
The natural psychedelics listed above are allowable for personal cultivation; so long as its done in an enclosed area of a private residence. A limit of 12X12 feet must be adhered to.
A $1,000 fine for cultivating beyond allowable limits.
Those with prior psychedelics convictions can go through a process to have their records sealed, but this is not automatic.
All regulation applies only to the naturally-occurring psychedelics listed above (and ibogaine). Possession of synthetic versions is not legalized, and synthetic psychedelics with “hazardous materials” like solvents, will be defined as a Class 2 felony.
Natural Medicine facilities
Healing centers will be able to administer psilocybin and psilocyn. Regulators can also offer ibogaine under supervised use. This is in contrast to the ballot measure which would have required treatment with ibogaine, DMT and mescaline wait until at least 2026.
Healing centers cannot be blocked in individual locations; however, individual locations can set their own operational rules. This stays in line with the ballot measure, and goes in contrast to Oregon.
Licensing and regulatory agencies
The Department of Revenue is to create a Division of Natural Medicine, which will issue licenses and oversee regulation for the industry. This is in contrast to the ballot measure which spoke of the Department of Regulatory Agencies having primary control.
Licensing will be required for all four parts of the process: cultivation, manufacture, testing, and delivery through healing centers.
A provision not mentioned in the ballot measure was also added which will create a community working group for Native American tribes and the indigenous community. This group will help deal with issues that come as consequences of these reforms; mainly the possible exploitation of these communities through commercialization of the compounds.
The bill allows approved psychedelic enterprises to deduct their expenses from state tax payments.
The process of reviewing applications can start no later than December 31st, 2024, which was moved back from September 30th, 2024.
Concerns and workarounds
Some concerns are standard, or at least, standard talking points. While medications like opioids kill tens of thousands yearly and are prescribed easily by doctors; there are fears attached to possible damage caused by this legalization. Even without psychedelics providing any real death or permanent injury count, the bill stipulates:
“although there may be tremendous potential in utilizing natural medicine for managing various mental health conditions, healing, and spiritual growth, this potential must be appropriately balanced with the health and safety risks that it could pose to consumers as well as the cultural harms it could pose to indigenous and traditional communities that have connections to natural medicine.”
In terms of cultural harms, the bill sets up the aforementioned advisory committee. According to the bill, this is because “Considerable harm may occur to indigenous people, communities, cultures, and religions if natural medicine is overly commodified, commercialized, and exploited in a manner that results in the erasure of important cultural and religious context.”
Where the original bill fell short in lawmaker’s minds, the House added a bunch of amendments to try to account for different issues. These include provisions for record sealing (mentioned above); that psychedelic use won’t violate either probation or parole; that cultivation is allowed in a place other than the cultivator’s own residence, so long as its for personal use, in a private residence, and in an enclosed space; that officials should keep track of drug use trends; and that regulators must both make clear what a federally recognized tribe is, and institute an equity plan.
The last point is common in cannabis legalization measures, but has not shown to be a useful tool. Unfortunately, while its good for government optics, such equity programs undermine the cost of operations. In expensive systems of regulation, where operating costs and taxes are high, the groups which would benefit most by such equity plans, tend to be the ones without the means to use them at all. Perhaps this instance will provide a different outcome.
How Colorado got here
How did we end up talking about how Colorado will institute regulation for a psychedelics market? It’s not like every state is doing it. In fact, Colorado is the second state to pass a measure to legalize some amount of psychedelic use. The first was Oregon, which passed measure 109 via voter ballot during the November, 2020 elections.
Two years later, and Colorado did the same thing. It put Proposition 122 in front of the public, called the Decriminalization, Regulated Distribution, and Therapy Program for Certain Hallucinogenic Plants and Fungi Initiative. 53.64% of the population voted yes to the measure, which totaled 1,296,992 votes. 46.36% were not up for this change, which accounted for 1,121,124 votes.
Though the bill defined certain plants as natural medicines from the get-go, it came with few specifics, much like Oregon’s original voted-in bill. However, from the beginning, Colorado’s vision was a bit different from Oregon’s; and the state incorporated different ideas from Oregon on certain points. Like in not letting individual locations opt out of the legislation, allowing for more than just psilocybin, and allowing use outside of healing centers.
Colorado had a big year for drug legalizations in 2022, and separately went a step further. At virtually the same break-neck speed, the state introduced and passed a bill to preemptively legalize medical MDMA. This legalization is specifically contingent on the US federal government legalizing MDMA for medical use first. So though the bill passed, it won’t be useful until a federal law passes. Even so, Colorado marks the first state to make such a legalization for MDMA.
With not much standing in the way, and a desire to meet a deadline; it seems unlikely that Governor Polis won’t sign the new Colorado psychedelics regulation bill into law. Within a few days we should know the answer for sure.
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