Psychedelics reform is on the ballot in Colorado this November, and two recent polls paint conflicting pictures about how voters will come down on the historic initiative.
For both surveys, respondents were given a description of the measure, which seeks to legalize possession of psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older and also allow “healing centers” where psilocybin can be administered for therapeutic purposes.
It would be a first-of-its-kind law in the U.S. if approved by voters. But the limited polling that’s available has produced divergent results, with one survey finding strong support for the measure (70 percent) and another showing a plurality of voters (41 percent) opposed to the reform.
The latter poll from FOX31, Channel 2, Emerson College Polling and The Hill that was released on Thursday gave a sobering outlook for the initiative, with only 36 percent of voters saying they’d support it. There was plurality or majority opposition among almost all demographics, with exceptions for Democrats and young people.
That survey involved interviews with 1,000 likely voters from September 18-19, with a +/-3 percentage point margin of error.
But a different poll conducted by the firm FM3 and commissioned by the Natural Medicine Health Act campaign shows voters strongly embracing the proposed policy change.
The survey, which was shared with Marijuana Moment on Friday, first asked respondents whether they support the measure after hearing the technical ballot title, and 60 percent said they did while 31 percent said they were opposed.
Then the firm provided a more detailed summary of what Proposition 122 would accomplish, and support jumped to 70 percent, evidently convincing people who were previously undecided.
“Veterans with PTSD, terminally ill patients and people struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma and other mental issues have found therapies from natural medicines work where other treatments have failed,” Kevin Matthews, a co-proponent of the Prop 122 who led the successful 2019 campaign to decriminalize psilocybin in Denver, said.
“Coloradans will support this measure because they see the mental health crisis in this country and are open to pharmaceutical alternatives—as long as they are regulated and safely administered,” he said.
That poll—conducted prior to the measure being formally certified for the ballot—involved interviews with 708 likely voters in Colorado from July 15-20, with a +/-4 percentage point margin of error.
Taken together, it’s difficult to account for the 34 percentage point difference in support between the two surveys, but a couple factors may be at play.
First, there’s the language of the questions. While both provided a summary of the initiative, the campaign’s version detailed more provisions and emphasized that it “would not allow for sale for recreational use.”
Here’s the full language of the summary provided to respondents in the campaign’s poll:
“This measure would allow legal, regulated therapeutic access for adults 21 and older to natural medicines that show promise in treating mental health conditions. The measure would create a regulated system so adults could access psychedelic therapy under the guidance of a licensed facilitator at designated and licensed healing centers. It would also remove all criminal penalties for personal use and possession of natural psychedelic medicines including removing past criminal penalties. It would not allow for sale for recreational use.”
In contrast, the separate media poll that found most voters opposed to the measure said simply that it would “decriminalize and regulate distribution for psychedelic plants and fungi such as DMT and psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’).”
The description of regulating “distribution” without a mention that retail sales would not be permitted might make some voters less inclined to support it.
Another factor could be related to the timing for when the surveys were conducted. In the two months since the campaign carried out its own internal poll showing sizable support, there’s been a more active campaign to oppose it, including by some activists who pushed for an alternative psychedelics initiative that didn’t make the ballot.
Those activists have argued that the initiative imposes too many regulations for entheogenic substances and would benefit corporate interests that want to provide psychedelic treatment services.
It’s not clear how much, if at all, that discourse has influenced voters, but it’s possible the messaging has affected public opinion somewhat.
Yet another factor could come down to the novelty of the proposal itself. Denver decriminalized psilocybin three years ago, kicking off a national psychedelics decriminalization movement that’s reached state legislatures across the U.S. and Congress, but the policy issue is still nascent and so opinions are likely still developing over time.
Oregon voters did approve a 2020 measure to legalize psilocybin therapy, but the treatment centers have not yet opened so there’s still no clear model for that part of the reform.
Here’s what the Natural Medicine Health Act initiative would accomplish if approved by voters:
Possession, use, cultivation and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn would be legalized for adults 21 and older, without an explicit possession limit. There would be no recreational sales component.
Under the proposal, the Department of Regulatory Agencies would be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older could visit a licensed healing center to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
There would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin and psilocyn would be permitted for therapeutic use at licensed healing centers until June 2026. After that point, regulators could decide whether to also permit regulated therapeutic use of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.
A new 15-member Natural Medicine Advisory Board would be responsible for making recommendations on adding substances to the program, and the Department of Regulatory Agencies could then authorize those recommended additions.
The advisory board’s membership would specifically include people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.
People who have completed their sentence for a conviction related to an offense made legal under the act would be able to petition the courts for record sealing. If there’s no objection from the district attorney, the court would need to automatically clear that record.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) was recently asked about the prospects of enacting psychedelics reform in the state, and he acknowledged that advocates are working to accomplish that policy change at the ballot and also said he supports the idea of decriminalizing the substances.
In June, Polis signed a bill to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use.
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Meanwhile, activists in Aspen, Colorado are collecting signatures for a local measure to decriminalize entheogenic substances like psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine.
At the federal level, a congressman said during a House Ways & Means hearing on Wednesday that psychedelics hold “real potential” as alternative mental health therapies with “less impact” than traditional pharmaceuticals.
At the beginning of this year, Blumenauer led a bipartisan letter requesting that DEA allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution under federal “Right to Try” (RTT) law.
Bipartisan and bicameral congressional lawmakers then filed companion bills in July to clarify that RTT statute enacted under the Trump administration is meant to give those seriously ill patients access to Schedule I drugs, including marijuana and psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
Meanwhile, congressional appropriations leaders have included language in recent spending legislation that urges federal agencies to continue supporting research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
In July, the House voted in favor of two psychedelics-related amendments to a defense bill, including one that would require a study to investigate psilocybin and MDMA as alternatives to opioids for military service members and another that would authorize the defense secretary to provide grants for studies into several psychedelics for active duty service members with PTSD.
But while advocates are encouraged by these incremental developments amid the national psychedelics decriminalization movement, some lawmakers feel that Congress isn’t keeping pace with the public and the science.
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that he’s done his research and believes that natural plants and fungi like psilocybin can be a therapeutic “game changer,” but he said that it’s “embarrassing” how slow other federal lawmakers have been to evolve on the issue.
Federal health officials have taken note of the increased adult use of certain entheogenic substances. As National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow put it earlier this year, the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently said that it is actively “exploring” the possibility of creating a task force to investigate the therapeutic of certain psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA in anticipation of federal approval of the substances for prescription use.
That came in response to letters from bipartisan congressional lawmakers, state legislators and military veterans, who implored the HHS secretary to to consider establishing an “interagency taskforce on the proper use and deployment of psychedelic medicine and therapy.”
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Photo courtesy of Dick Culbert.