On July 6, two political activists sat before a packed crowd inside Denver’s Mercury Cafe and prepared to give a presentation in favor of Proposition 122, known as the Natural Medicine Health Act. If passed by voters next month, it would establish a state-run program through which all Coloradans could legally access psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” as soon as late 2024. But the proposed measure has drawn sharp criticism from—surprisingly—a large contingent of the local psychedelics community.

At the Mercury Cafe meeting, one of the activists, Veronica Lightning Horse Perez, felt the need to address the tension. Perez, who runs a wellness and therapy center in Littleton, detailed the intense disparagement she’s endured, especially on social media, for being one of the faces of Prop 122. “This has not been easy,” Perez told the crowd. “I am a human being doing the best I can.”

Proponents of Prop 122 point to research from New York University, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins University that indicates psilocybin has the potential to treat mental ailments such as addiction, PTSD, and depression. Prop 122 would make it legal for licensed centers to disburse the psychedelic fungi to patients under the supervision of state-approved facilitators. Essentially, it would legalize therapeutic mushroom sessions. The measure would also decriminalize other natural psychedelics, including ibogaine and mescaline, and allow Coloradans age 21 and older to legally use them in their homes—although selling the substances would still be illegal.

But Melanie Rose Rodgers, who helped lead the successful campaign to decriminalize mushrooms in Denver in 2019, fears Prop 122 could create an environment that resembles Colorado’s cannabis industry, which has been criticized for its inequities and corporate ownership. Detractors believe restricting legal psilocybin to a handful of licensed businesses is a form of gatekeeping, which could lead to scarcity and high prices, and runs counter to ways Indigenous groups have historically used these substances. “Nobody should own nature,” Rodgers says. After her and other psychedelics activists’ own initiative—which sought only to decriminalize psychedelics—failed to gain enough signatures to make the ballot, they’ve continued to voice their opposition to Prop 122.

Perez sees this opposition as unfortunate. Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies would be in charge of overseeing the therapeutic mushroom program, but Prop 122 was written to accommodate community input during the rule-making process. “You’re critical to guiding this,” Perez told the Denver gathering. “But we can’t help guide it when you’re not there, when you’re opposed, or when you’re angry. We need you.”

Money Matters

Editor’s Note 9/30/22: This article has been updated to include the amount Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps has contributed through New Approach PAC.

A portrait photo of David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. Photo by John Francis Peters/Courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s

A political action committee called New Approach PAC based in Washington, D.C., has spent more than $2.8 million to get Proposition 122 passed by Colorado voters, and some of that money has come from a name you might recognize from your shower shelf: California-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. CEO David Bronner, the grandson of the Dr. Bronner, says his company has contributed $250,000 to the effort through New Approach. Bronner has been a fan of psychedelics since taking a trip to Amsterdam in the 1990s. He believes mushrooms could help treat the mental health crisis in America and that legalizing the fungi under the supervision of the state—as outlined in Prop 122—is likely the best way to garner broad support. “Most of the psychedelically naive population is not comfortable yet in a decriminalized context,” Bronner says. Instead, novices may need the reassurance that comes with being guided by a licensed professional. Bronner’s support, however, could backfire: The money being spent in support of Prop 122 has led to mistrust among opponents. Nicole Foerster of Decriminalize Nature Boulder County, for example, believes New Approach PAC is an example of “big, out-of-state money and out-of-state interests dictating local Colorado policy.”