End Federal Prohibitions of Hallucinogenic Mushrooms
UPDATE: As of late Wednesday, the de-criminalization measure managed to close the gap of what had earlier been a 55 to 45 percent loss. It looks like the measure has now narrowly passed, and voters' laissez-faire attitudes toward mushroom consumption apparently (barely) overcame other concerns. The article has been modified to reflect this outcome.
Denver's municipal election this year featured a ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms — or as the Phish groupies called them back in high school — "shrooms." The measure was narrowly approved by 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.
Denver, of course, is a place that voted in the majority for the legalization of marijuana in 2012's successful statewide ballot measure — with 65 percent voting for legalization in Denver. Denver voters also voted in 2016 in favor of a city-wide ordinance allowing businesses to have designated areas for public consumption of marijuana.
So why did the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms barely pass this year?
Well, based on my thoroughly un-scientific survey of Denver voters, part of it may have been fear over the risk of mushroom enthusiasts flocking do Denver to enjoy local mushroom freedom. In other words, given the lack of any other jurisdictions de-criminalizing psilocybin, some voters may have been less concerned about increased ease of access to mushrooms, and more concerned about attracting the sorts of people who use them.
This sort of thing was a relatively common complaint after marijuana legalization. Local residents rarely complained about the legality of marijuana, and few believed the hysteria of federal government agents — such as this guy — who maintained marijuana legalization would lead to a public health disaster.
On the other hand, many local residents were less than thrilled at the idea that potheads from across the nation would flock to the city primarily in to sit in their newly rented basements and smoke up all day.
Few had a problem with letting the existing local potheads be potheads, and few ever believed the propaganda that people otherwise uninterested in marijuana use would suddenly become addicts because of legalization. And there's still no evidence that has ever happened.
The problem stemmed from the perception that the proportion of potheads in the general population would increase substantially through in-migration from other states.
In the first few years following legalization, many local pundits and politicians asserted population growth and real estate prices were being driven quickly up by marijuana enthusiasts who were relocating solely to hit the bong, legally. The image this was intended to conjure up was one of scores of potheads pulling up in moving vans and moving in permanently.
It's unclear to what extent that was ever really true, though. And now that Massachusetts, Nevada, and the entire West Coast (including Alaska) have similarly overturned prohibition, few share this concern anymore.
However, when it came to de-criminalizing psilocybin mushrooms, fewer Denver voters may have been unenthusiastic about being pioneers this time around. Of course, even if the measure had passed, the situation would not have been very comparable to marijuana legalization. The city's DA noted "only 11 of more than 9,000 drug cases referred for possible prosecution between 2016 and 2018 involved psilocybin." Moreover, as a de-criminalization measure — as opposed to legalization — there wouldn't be any dispensaries popping up at the local strip mall.
Nevertheless, the prospect of local liberalization attracting more drug users is an unrecognized ace in the hole used by federal agents and regulators. Psilocybin remains a Schedule 1 drug under federal law. By using nationwide federal policy to both mandate illegality — and to encourage similar state and local ordinances — federal agents can more easily isolate and fear-monger within communities considering legalization or de-criminalization within what is otherwise a uniform landscape of prohibition. Were state and local authorities truly left on their own when it comes to prohibitions of psilocybin mushrooms and similar substances, we'd likely see far more regional variation, and at least a notable minority of communities with varying degrees of laissez-faire.
As it is, federal policy sets the tone in favor of nationwide prohibition, and this makes it harder for any single community to break away from established federal policy, even if the voters don't fear the direct effects of the prohibited substance itself.