With the passage of Initiated Ordinance 301 by a slim margin, Denver has become the first city in the United States to “decriminalize” the personal possession and personal use of “magic mushrooms”- that is, fungal matter that contain the hallucinogenic compound psilocybin, psilocin, baeocystin, or nor-baeocystin. The new ordinance went into effect with the certification of the vote passing the ordinance on May 16th, 2019.
But supporters of the ordinance should be careful before planning their next “trip” to a summer concert. While the new law changes aspects of enforcement, decriminalization is still several steps away from complete legalization. Those who plan to explore their newfound freedom should know a few key things about what Initiated Ordinance 301 does (and doesn’t) do.
First, Initiated Ordinance 301 is limited to the City and County of Denver. Metro area counties such as Boulder, Jefferson, Adams and Douglas are not bound by the new law in any way. Use or possession of mushrooms in these counties, as well of the rest of Colorado, may be prosecuted regardless of the Denver ordinance. Mushrooms that contain hallucinogenic compounds also remain a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Nothing in the new Denver law would prohibit federal officers from enforcing the federal law.
Second, even within the City and County of Denver, the new law does not allow distribution or public use. Selling mushrooms in exchange for renumeration of any kind may be prosecuted under existing drug distribution laws. Home grows intended only for personal use do fall under the new ordinance’s “possession” provisions.
Third, decriminalization only applies to person over 21. The new law does not change how law enforcement may investigate and prosecute use and possession by person under 21.
Finally, decriminalization simply makes the enforcement of criminal laws related to mushrooms the lowest priority for law enforcement and strips funding for the enforcement in the criminal code related to mushrooms. In other words, the law puts mushrooms into the “we don’t care” box rather than the “completely legal” box. Possession and use are still technically a crime, even if this is in name only.
It is still possible for the city council to make changes to the ordinance, but the official position from Mayor Hancock is that the city “respects the decision of the voters and the Denver Police Department will enforce the law accordingly.”
Initiated Ordinance 301 also provides for a 11-member Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel to be created to review the effects of the new ordinance.
One final interesting catch: Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, is part of the City and County of Denver, but is surrounded by Jefferson County. The provisions of Initiated Ordinance 301 would apply at the concert venue, but not when traveling to and from.