How Psilocybin Advocates Grew Denver's Trippiest Ballot Initiative

At a recent fundraiser for his ballot initiative, Kevin Matthews stood before a crowd of fifty-plus supporters, many of whom looked like Burning Man regulars. They were there to support Matthews’s cause — decriminalizing psilocybin mushrooms — but also to dig into the mushroom-themed meal that had been prepared for the event.

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He decided to recruit experienced minds to his cause, cold-emailing Noah Potter, a New York lawyer specializing in drug law and policy. Potter called him soon after, and they spent an hour on the phone.

“The previous version attempted to decree that the criminal law of Colorado would not apply in Denver,” Potter says. The approach made sense for California, he explains, since it would have exempted all residents of California from certain state laws. But it didn’t make sense for Denver, as it would’ve exempted only Denver residents from state law. “You can’t really do that,” Potter says. “It’s a basic matter of different levels of hierarchy of government. The local government can’t tell the state what state law is.”

Potter and Matthews then began writing a new ballot initiative based on the Denver marijuana decriminalization effort of 2007. Like its predecessor, Initiative 301 makes enforcing laws against psilocybin a low priority for law enforcement. It also allows residents to grow psilocybin mushrooms at home, which was a priority for Matthews and Potter.

“Kevin was clear — and I would agree with him — that it’s important to extend the protections of this local law to cultivation for individual use,” says Potter, who worked on the ballot’s language pro bono. “Possession and consumption are basic. But the propagation — control over even the smallest atomic level of the supply side — is a very important thing.”