September 26, 2022

A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a cannabis marketplace in Los Angeles on May 24, 2019.

A vendor bags psilocybin mushrooms at a cannabis marketplace in Los Angeles on May 24, 2019.
Colorado could become the second state in the country to legalize and regulate the market for psilocybin and psilocin, the psychedelic ingredient found in so-called “magic mushrooms” – thanks to a Washington, D.C.-based group that has been pouring in millions of dollars to support ballot measures in Colorado.
Behind the Natural Medicine Health Act of 2022 is an entity called New Approach PAC. Based in the nation’s capital, the group has put more than $3 million into ballot measures in Colorado in the last two years.
The PAC, for example, contributed $250,000 to the 2020 paid family leave initiative. The rest of its money went to the campaign committee Natural Medicine Colorado, which is pushing Initiative 58, which claims that magic mushrooms would be a tool to address mental health issues.
New Approach PAC’s largest funder in 2020 was Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a company that, since 1948, has made soaps and other personal hygiene products and which contributed $3.1 million to the PAC in 2020, according to Open Secrets. The company’s website says it uses its profits, roughly $8.7 million in 2020, to enact social change. About $4.4 million of its 2021 profits went to drug and psychedelic policy reform efforts, according to a 2022 report on its website.
The company’s website states that its mental healthcare benefits include “ketamine-assisted therapy, as a first step in providing access to psychedelic-assisted therapy to employees to promote mental health.”
*New Approach’s second largest funder in 2020, at $2 million, was Henry Van Ameringen, according to Open Secrets. Van Ameringen, who passed away in September 2020, was the CEO of International Flavors and Fragrances Company, one of the world’s largest fragrance manufacturers, and served as board president of the Van Ameringen Foundation, which funds mental health services in New York and Philadelphia. The foundation told Colorado Politics that it does not fund New Approach or “magic mushroom” causes, and the PAC is not listed among its grantees. A foundation spokesperson said individual board members may make contributions to causes on their own. The board is made up primarily of members of the van Ameringen family.
A major donor to LGBTQ+ causes, Van Ameringen contributed $6.5 million to New Approach since its founding in 2014, according to CannabisWire
He was also part of a group of wealthy donors known as “The Cabinet” that, according to Influence Watch, supports gay-rights candidates.
The Cabinet includes Colorado’s Tim Gill, founder of the software company Quark and the Gill Foundation, and Jon Stryker, an heir to the Stryker Corporation medical technology company.
Stryker has given $326,295 to Democratic political campaigns in Colorado, including to Bold Colorado, which backed Jared Polis for governor in 2018. Stryker’s sister, Pat, has been the state’s most generous individual contributor to Democratic political campaigns in Colorado, with $12.8 million since 2001, according to TRACER, the state’s campaign finance database.
While Denver became first in the nation to decriminalize magic mushrooms back in 2019, the 2022 statewide ballot measure takes a much bigger step forward by allowing legal use without criminal penalties under most circumstances. 
Under the measure, magic mushrooms would become legally accessible to individuals 21 years or older and administered mostly at state licensed “healing centers” allowed under rules to be promulgated by the state Department of Regulatory Agencies. Licensed facilitators could also provide treatment to patients in hospitals, hospice facilities, community mental health centers, rural health clinics, long-term care facilities or retirement communities – but only with the facility’s permission, according to Natural Medicine Colorado. 
The measure would also allow growing mushrooms for personal use and consuming them without legal penalty. A home grower, under the measure, could also give away the product to those 21 years of age or older so long as it’s not being sold.
In the home, the measure would require plants or fungi to be kept secure from those under 21 years of age.
Those under age 21 who use magic mushrooms could be charged with a petty drug offense  but subject only to a penalty of four hours of drug education or counseling. That would apply both to possession as well as giving it away to others without cost.
Rick Ridder, who spoke on behalf of Natural Medicine Colorado, said the group’s intent is to protect kids from obtaining the drug. He said it cannot be purchased solely for use, only as part of a treatment plan and it can only be obtained from healing centers or other supervised facilities. 
Ridder described the process this way, which he emphasized is meant to protect kids from obtaining the substances: Someone goes to a trained facilitator for consultation and set goals for treatment. On the second trip, the adult would partake of the fungi, and a third trip would be required for the patient to meet with the facilitator for evaluation of the treatment.
Initiative 58 would eliminate criminal prosecution for personal use and possession, while those with previous criminal records tied to “natural medicines” could petition courts to seal their records at no charge.
Also, the use of “natural medicines” would not disqualify a person from medical care or medical insurance, including for organ transplants.
Initiative 58 would also bans local jurisdictions from enacting regulations more restrictive than the measure.
“Natural medicines” covered under Initiative 58 are dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, mescaline, psilocybin or psilocin. It excludes a form of mescaline known as peyote, which is a sacrament in the Native American Church of North America.
Dimethyltryptamine is a psychedelic form of tryptamine. Ibogaine is illegal in the United States – it can be fatal. It is being used in Mexico to treat drug addiction and PTSD. Mescaline occurs naturally in certain cacti and has been used to treat psychosis and anxiety disorders.
The latter two can be used to treat anxiety, as well as depression for terminally-ill patients.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research at Johns Hopkins Medicine has conducted research into the effects of psilocybin on a variety of conditions, and reported last spring that psilocybin is effective for treating depression, and its effects can last a year after just two doses.
New York University researchers also have looked at the impact of psilocybin to treat alcohol addiction.
Government funding, however, has been slow, with just one research grant of about $4 million awarded in 2021 to a Johns Hopkins professor, who is researching the effects of psilocybin on tobacco addiction.
Initiative 58 is the fourth ballot measure seeking legalization of magic mushrooms.
New Approach also funded the campaign for two ballot measures in Oregon and a third in Washington, D.C., both in 2020. All three passed with no opposition.
The Oregon measures, one of which is similar to Colorado’s, will go into effect on Jan. 2, 2023. The Washington, D.C. measure, which is on decriminalization, went live on March 15, 2021.
Denver became the first city in the nation to remove criminal penalties for possession of magic mushrooms, followed by Oakland, Calif. Lawmakers in New Jersey and Washington state have recently considered legislation to legalize possession.
Correction: A previous version misidentified Henry Van Ameringen’s relationship with New Approach. This story has also been updated to note that New Approach’s second largest funder in 2020 Mr. Van Ameringen, citing Open Secrets. 

November’s statewide ballot will have eight questions, asking for voter approval to pay for healthy meals, a reduction in the income tax rate, and whether to allow for magic mushrooms, plus the questions on alcohol.
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