Denver becomes first US city to decriminalize 'magic mushrooms'

Voters in Denver took the nation by surprise when an initiative passed to decriminalize the use of psilocybin, otherwise known as “magic mushrooms.”

Up until Wednesday’s historic vote, the citizen-led Initiative 301 seemed to be facing imminent defeat. But the measure passed by a razor-thin margin.

The final vote tally released Wednesday shows the measure passing with 50.56 percent in favor.

This will effectively prevent local authorities from enforcing criminal penalties for possession of psilocybin mushrooms for personal use by locals who are at least 21 years old. 

The measure does not fully legalize magic mushrooms, however, or permit their sale by cannabis business. 

Magic mushroom decriminalization campaign organizers have said that their main goal is to keep people out of jail in Denver for using or possessing the drug. Many use it to cope with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and other conditions, according to organizers.

Kevin Matthews, director of the Decriminalize Denver campaign, said psilocybin has helped him with depression for years. 
“This is not something you have to take every day,” the 33-year-old Denver native said. “It provides a lot of lasting benefits, weeks and months after one experience.”

For decades, magic mushrooms have been attractive in certain religious practices because of their powerful hallucinogenic effects, and the substance has since gained mass appeal in terms of recreational use.  

While research has reported that mushrooms actually help treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients, with users describing powerful and positive spiritual experiences, the federal government still classifies psilocybin as a Schedule 1 drug, and considers them to have no medical purpose with a high potential for abuse. 

The federal government may still classify psilocybin mushrooms as an illegal substance, but decriminalization in Denver could pave the way for inevitable legalization across the country, similarly to marijuana.  

The initiative on the ballot followed the same tack taken by marijuana activists to decriminalize pot possession in 2005 in the city. That move was followed by statewide legalization in 2012. A number of other states have since broadly allowed marijuana sales and use by adults. 

The Associated Press Contributed to this story.